Weekly #12 – It’s Just a Tool

What have I learned this semester about social media?  Well, I learned a lot because I didn’t use social media much before taking this class.  I didn’t have a Facebook page, none of my friends are on Twitter (Metcalf’s law at it’s most basic) and I didn’t know anything about all the different free analytical tools available for measuring effectiveness of social media.  So for me, yes – exploring social media was definitely worth it, if just to understand the world that is out there.

I think I’ll still check out blogs in the future, since I’m embarking on a new adventure I will enjoy learning from the new parenting community out there.  Twitter, not sure if I’ll stay on that or not, since no one I know uses it.  I probably won’t keep up this blog, although it’s been a great experiment and has taught me that blogging takes way more time than I thought it did.

I’ve never been one for being totally social and for me, Hamlet’s Blackberry just kind of made sense.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the tools available, they are just tools.  We have the power to put them down and back away slowly, or run away screaming!  Distance and introspection are good things.

I always like to use the analogy of tools when I’m teaching media training classes to Soldiers.  I tell them that media relations is just one set of tools available in the toolbox; use it correctly, like a hammer, and you can build a house.  Use the hammer incorrectly, hit yourself on the thumb and it hurts like hell.

That kind of sums up what I think about the social media tools, it’s important to know they are there and how to use them, but be careful you don’t use them incorrectly.   Personally, I don’t want to get too involved in social media and lose the ability to just enjoy being unplugged.

When I read Hamlet’s Blackberry I thought about my iPhone and iPad.  I didn’t care about buying them, my husband thought they would be useful.  And they are, I use them a lot.  But I am seriously contemplating turning off the email alert ding that tells me I’ve got mail.  I feel like Pavlov’s dog whenever I hear the ding; I feel like I must run and see what it is.

Unfortunately it’s usually some spam mail offering me the deal of the day from a website I ordered one thing from two years ago.  Lately I’ve been making it a practice to unsubscribe from each of those annoying lists; I think I still have about 5 more to get deleted from.

The email ding cuts both ways though – I happened to look at my email right after Georgetown PR&CC sent out the weekly email and found out there was a new class added for spring semester.  I had been signed up for a class that I wasn’t too thrilled about taking, but it fit in my time slot and met my goal of only taking one class a day so I would have to worry about being away from the baby for too long (I have no desire to pump in a bathroom…).

Anyway, thanks to checking the email right after the ding I was able to drop the class I didn’t want and get into the new offering which I am much more excited about taking.  So, technology is a double-edged sword!  But like any good sword, it should be finely balanced and that’s our challenge – don’t get too involved and lose sight of what really matters most.  Keep the balance – I’ll let you decide for yourself what that is.

photo flickr.com by tiffa 130 used under Creative Commons license

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Weekly #11 Where in the world is Wallis and Futuna?

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to check out the blogs on Wallis and Futuna for a few reasons.

1.  When I read Garrett’s post, I thought he said look for a country that starts with the same letter as your last name (probably was the military hardwiring of my brain that put the little ‘last’ in before name, can’t break that habit…) and I couldn’t think of any countries that start with W.  Turns out there aren’t any ‘countries’ per se, just two territories, Wallis and Futuna and Western Sahara.

2.  I had never heard of Wallis and Futuna before and had to click on the link to see if it was for real.  Yep, it’s a tiny French territory in the South Pacific near Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.  It’s composed of three main tropical volcanic islands split into two groups (hence the Wallis AND Futuna name).  Each of the three main islands is also a kingdom, but they are collectively governed by French law and elect a representative to the French government.  The population is about 15,000 people.

3.  The South Pacific seemed like a more fun place to dig around in than the very complicated political issues facing Western Sahara – I figured we would cover enough fighting and military issues in class this week with milblogs and that Wallis and Futuna would be a nice diversion for me.

Having spent about a year in Hawaii before moving here, I am somewhat familiar with the plight of very small, isolated islands in the Pacific region.  Wallis and Futuna are the embodiment of that plight: a beautiful island setting with very real challenges for the economy, government, and the future of its young people.

The blogs I found on Wallis and Futuna are either quick mentions of the territory from passing travelers or blogs written by foreigners who have moved to Wallis and Futuna.  The blogs actually written by people living there are in French – so while it is fun to try to make sense of the blogs using my very rusty French sills, I was forced to default to Google Translate (once again, thankful for Google).  For the most part, the blogs just detail ordinary life for the writers, and many seem like an update for friends and family elsewhere in the world.

It looks like there are the typical challenges of internet access in a very remote area that bloggers have to contend with, plus some vague mentions of government monitoring of blogs.  I wasn’t able to find any blogs written by native islanders so it’s hard to say what their opinion on the matter is.  The expats living there gave the impression of a lovely place, with nice people and a government that sometimes upsets the population with hints of official corruption.

Wikipedia mentioned a 2005 scandal with the former king granting his grandson sanctuary under tribal law after he was convicted of manslaughter in court.  Protesters rioted in the street but were overwhelmed by the king’s supporters and eventually the issue died down.  Wallis and Futuna was also in the news recently after three teenagers were found near the islands after they spent 50 days adrift and lost at sea.

So there you have it, the Long Tail of tiny places you’ve never heard of now accessible to you thanks to the magic of the internet.

photo: flickr.com/Romain [ apictureourselves.org ] used under Creative Commons license

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Weekly #10 – I am Thankful for Google

This week’s blog topic is “What website are you most thankful for?”

Although it’s not the coolest site out there, I am most thankful for Google.  Google is my gateway to the Internet.

I remember when we first got Internet connectivity at West Point – I was a senior.  This was back in the day (1996).  Of course we had email all along and some of the techno geeks were sharing files and info on networked bulletin boards and FTP sites, but for the clueless like myself, email was it.  So when this thing called the Internet and a browser came along, I had no idea what to do with it.

I vividly remember sitting in a computer lab with my classmate (now husband…) as he showed me the Netscape browser (side note – the Wayback machine doesn’t even go that far back…).  All I could do was stare at glowing arc icon and wonder what I was supposed to do with this.  Sure it was cool, but where was I going to go, what was I going to look at?  At that point, the Internet wasn’t useful to me at all and I remained a DOS-based email user for several more years.

Flash forward to 2001.  Light years in Internet-time.  I started using Google.  Suddenly, I could find things.  Even if I didn’t know I was looking for them, I could find ‘em.

When I first became a public affairs officer I started doing media analysis for my organization.  Really, it was more of a media clipping with a short bit of summary, but you get the idea.  I couldn’t have found all the media sources without Google.  Unfortunately for me, I also found tons of stuff that I wasn’t looking for, so I tended to take way more time than was actually needed to finish the analysis each day.

Since then, Google has helped me (from the comfort of my desk) do research for papers, translate websites from Arabic to English, spend money, waste time, learn about esoteric subjects, find recipes, research and book travel, research cars, find a place to live, explore the long tail – you name it, Google helps me find it.  Google is search for me.

So, although it’s not the coolest site out there, it is the one that I use constantly.  It’s become so much more than just a verb – I don’t (can’t???) do anything online without it.

Turkey image by tuchodi, used under Creative Commons license

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Personal Post #4 – Just for Fun – Cookie Monster for SNL

Found this video today – Cookie Monster wants to host Saturday Night Live.  Check out his audition video below, courtesy of the Sesame Street Channel on YouTube. He’s trying to get the video to go viral and I wanted to learn how to post a video in my blog – so it’s a win-win situation here!

If you want to join up – go to Facebook and “Like” it.  Almost 40 thousand people have so far (as of Wednesday morning).

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Response Post #3 – The TSA hysteria and how to effect change

I was motivated to write this response post after seeing a video of a ‘protester’ who stripped down to her underwear and filmed herself going through the checkpoint at Sea-Tac airport on Sunday.

This is just the latest in a week filled with very emotional responses to the TSA’s enhanced security screening at airport checkpoints.  While I can’t say whether or not the enhanced security screening is actually doing any good (I think time would be better spent screening cargo….) I do have to say that filming yourself making a spectacle and bashing TSA screeners probably isn’t the best way to effect change.

If you don’t like the new TSA guidelines, call your elected officials!  It always frustrates me to see people who think that their misplaced acts of protest are going to do any good – who are they protesting to?  The TSA guy at the gate?  He’s not the one who sets policy – our government does.  Call your elected officials!  Call TSA, go to the people who can actually make change happen.  It looks like a lot of people are doing that on the TSA blog – good for them (both TSA for blogging and commenters for posting).

The thing that struck me about the video (yes, I watched the boring 10+ minutes of it) was how darn noisy the checkpoint is.  I would lose my mind if I worked there.  I thought the TSA employees were trying to do their best to be polite and do their jobs in a confusing new environment, filled with noise and hostile (and smelly) travelers.

Yes, there are a few bad apples in the airport screeners, just as there are a few bad apples in the military, the police, our government, society at large, etc….but in large part most TSA employees, like most people, are decent.  Put yourself in a TSA screeners shoes and gloves – do you want that job?  I’d recommend remaining calm and actually wishing them a nice day instead of slinging a drop-dead glare.  I obviously haven’t been through the enhanced screening, so I can’t speak from experience about how it is, but again – the employee at the gate isn’t the one who makes change, it’s the leadership.  Engage the leadership with your concerns and you’ll have a much better chance of success.

And now – why I think it’s a bad idea to film security checkpoints.  Having worked at the intersection of security and public relations for seven years now I can say DON’T MAKE IT EASY FOR THE ‘BAD GUYS’ TO GET INFORMATION!  Yes, you can go through the TSA checkpoint yourself and see how it works.  Good – make the ‘bad guys’ go do that.  Don’t film it for them and put it on the internet so they can check it out in the comfort of their home – make them work for it.

I’m not trying to defend the new screening procedures, or scaring little kids, or causing flashbacks for sexual abuse survivors.  I’m just saying call your elected officials if you don’t like it.  They are the ones who can change policy (and avoid screening).

I’ll get off my soapbox now.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Weekly #9 – Welcome to Second Life – your computer is about to die

I tried.  I really tried.  I downloaded the Second Life viewer, installed it on my computer and eventually saw my avatar Cathy Xootfly standing on the welcome island.  I had a pretty cool bald spot going on for a while, as the computer tried to put hair and clothes on the avatar.

About this time my laptop started to go into pre-meltdown mode.  I’ve been trying to keep it going because I refuse to buy another one after only three years (I know, I’ve skipped two cycles of Moore’s Law in that time…) but Second Life just proved to be too much for my poor old RAM.  I recognize the warning signs well and since I (technically my husband) installed the new OS on my Mac I’ve avoided meltdowns.  I couldn’t let Second Life bring me down after all that….I did try to navigate to the different parts of the island but that took me more than 30 minutes to walk around the first two areas of the welcome island so I gave up.

BUT…I did read all about Second Life from the class blog.  I’ve got to say, I was really amazed at how passionate people were on the Q3 2010 page on the SL blog.  There were 161 responses and most of them were fairly detailed about SL.  I knew that people really get into MMOGs (I’m married to a level 80 something or other who just got a new horned helmet in WoW) but I’ve never personally looked into them before.







(my husband’s avatar/toon, note the horned helmet.  I think it would be cooler if the horn was capable of spearing people…but it’s just basically non-functional bling)

My experiences with gaming are limited to the Atari 2600 (Dig Dug, Asteroids and all that – when I could drag the controller away from my older brother, which was infrequent at best), a brief Tetris addiction (did you know you can play it so much you see those darn blocks in your head and you can’t flip them into place???), and of course, my personal favorites, Freecell and Solitaire.  Other than that, I don’t play games on the computer.  I bought my husband a Wii but I am a sore looser with no hand-eye coordination and can’t compete with him, even when I make him play left-handed.  Plus he likes the Xbox better than the Wii so it was a waste of money.   I kick butt at Trivial Pursuit though…

Anyway, back to MMOGs.

I was struck by the amount of work that people do for free in SL.

After all my travels around Second Life, it’s becoming apparent that virtual worlds, most of all this one, tap into something very powerful: the talent and hard work of everyone inside. Residents spend a quarter of the time they’re logged in, a total of nearly 23,000 hours a day, creating things that become part of the world, available to everyone else. It would take a paid 4,100-person software team to do all that, says Linden Lab. Assuming those programmers make about $100,000 a year, that would be $410 million worth of free work over a year. (Businessweek May 1, 2006)

Talk about crowdsourcing!

As Garrett mentioned in class a few weeks ago, we tend to think differently (negatively) of the person who spent all weekend playing an MMOG (an inherently more social experience than TV) yet sitting in front of the TV all weekend is more socially acceptable.  Why is that?  I’ve seen firsthand how WoW has kept my husband and his brother in closer touch (and yeah, thanks for getting him hooked on WoW Dave….grr!) so it’s probably time for me to readjust my thinking.

Checking out SL has shown me there is a huge other world that I was unaware of.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over here on Luddite Island playing Solitaire.

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Response Post #2 – The Holiday Season





Zee inspired me to write about the holiday season with her post about remembering Thanksgiving.  She’s got a good point, Christmas seems like it started in August this year, no wait, maybe that was Halloween and Christmas started in October.  Wait, in fact, Christmas started Nov. 1, with early Black Friday sales targeted at reinvigorating the retail industry, er, I mean letting consumers get good deals for a much longer period of time.

So that brings me to the point of my post – I hate the commercialization of the holiday season.  I really don’t even remember Christmas shopping when I was a kid, I do remember wrapping presents but I don’t ever recall being bombarded with ads and early decorated stores.  Zee is right, Thanksgiving is getting completely ignored, sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas/Holiday season shopping.

I used to get very excited to decorate the house for Christmas when I was a kid – it was exciting to move the sofa to a new spot to make way for the Christmas tree and discover the goodies lurking behind the sofa.  We never started decorating the house until December, but I used to love it!  I loved decorating the tree, looking at ornaments and remembering when we made them.  We were heavy on homemade ornaments in my house…torn construction paper and cotton ball Santas, hand-knitted candy cane holders that looked like reindeer, strange ceramic things decorated with paint, glue and some glitter.

Well, fast forward to middle school when my parents, in an outright act of child abuse, decided the family was going skiing for Christmas and we weren’t putting up a Christmas tree.  What. The. Word I didn’t use when I was 12?!?!?  Are you kidding me, no Christmas stuff?  And you’re forcing me to go skiing (in the powder-licious Tetons) when you know I hated the one time we went at Snowshoe?

So for the rest of my childhood we didn’t decorate for Christmas anymore.  And really, it was no big deal.  I learned to enjoy the Christmas decorations other people put up and didn’t have to worry about putting everything away and miss parts of the Tournament of Roses parade.  Plus I got to go skiing for a week or so and enjoy other people’s Christmas decorating efforts.  A win-win situation all around if you ask me.

I went a little crazy when I got married and bought a ton of Christmas junk and decorated the house for a year or two, but for the past ten years, all that stuff has been languishing in a box(es).  My husband frequently mentions it when I bring up the topic of getting rid of stuff we don’t use.  Somehow, I can’t bring myself to do it just yet….

And not to forget Thanksgiving, the whole point of Zee’s post.  I shared a Thanksgiving dinner with friends one year and we all had to hold hands and say out loud what we were thankful for.  There were a lot of people I didn’t know at the dinner and I was a little weirded out by holding hands and sharing stuff like that with strangers.  It was pouring rain that day and all I could think of was, “I’m really glad to have a roof over my head and indoor plumbing” (I had just gotten back from Iraq).  Of course, that is what I said and it truly was something I was thankful for.  It’s the little things in life that mean so much.

So think about what little things you are thankful for this year and resist the retailers’ push to skip right over Thanksgiving!

Photo by Ed Schipul, used in accordance with Creative Commons License

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Weekly #8 – I still trust (but verify) Wikipedia

Our blog topic this week is an extension of last weeks, trust in Wikipedia.  After a discussion in class and several readings about Wikipedia (along with writing our own entries) I have to say that my answer has not changed.  I still trust Wikipedia as a good initial source for quick background information on a subject and as a reference point for additional information.  I take what I read on the site with a grain of salt though, and verify it for myself through other means.

Last week in class we talked about the 7/7 bombings in London and looked at the very detailed Wikipedia entry on it.  We used the View History tab to see how the page evolved, from an initial entry just 28 minutes after the attacks and tracked how it evolved in just the first few hours.  It was updated more than 50 times in the first hour alone.

Until last week’s class, it had never, ever crossed my mind to look at Wikipedia as a source for breaking news.  I’m not saying that I now consider it a source of news, but at least I know now that people start creating entries almost immediately after something major seems to be happening.

My experience as an Army public affairs officer has led me to know that first reports are almost always incorrect and that more details will be added later and confusion on the ground will lead to revisions of reports, clarifications of facts and figures, actions and response activities.  A look at the numerous edits on the 7/7 page shows this very well.

I would be a fool to trust Wikipedia as a definitive source for breaking news, after all it’s an encyclopedia not a news station.  That said, I would also be a fool to entirely trust what the media is reporting as well, since I know all too well that initial reports can be, and frequently are, incorrect but that once something’s been reported and the media has moved on to a new topic incorrect media reports often remain on record and become the new “truth.”

For me, Wikipedia in a breaking news situation (provided I have the time to be checking out Wikipedia in such a situation) serves more as a gauge on what people are thinking about an event, and how they are interpreting it, rather than as a source for hard facts.

In the end, I still say that Wikipedia is a useful first reference for me and now I know that it’s also updated with breaking news.  I’ll have to check it out the next time something is going on and see it evolve in realtime.

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Personal Post #3 – I have sunk to a new low

I’ve sunk to a new low…or swelled up to a new high, depending on how you look at it.

I am now wearing Crocs in public, outside the house.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Crocs.  In fact as I am now wearing them in public, I am appreciating how comfy they are, it’s just that they aren’t my idea of shoes that go with anything other than gym clothes on the way to a shower trailer on a deployment somewhere (their flip flops are the BEST shower shoes) or kicking around the house where no one can see you.

I’ve had to buy new Crocs in an effort to 1. fit into shoes based on my pregnant swollen feet and 2. try to have a pair that don’t scream “I’m wearing plastic shoes.”  I went to their website a few weeks ago to look for a pair that was more incognito than my original pastel blue colored ones with the heel loop.

I was amazed, I mean AMAZED to see the massive amount of Crocs shoes there are now.  I knew they had stores and kiosks at malls, so logically I knew they would have to have a few more pairs than the original ones and flip flops but I was unprepared for the absolute Long Tail of shoes awaiting my perusal.  On just the women’s site alone there are 155 different models.  That’s not 155 with all the different colors, that 155 different models.  They’ve even jumped on the ‘toning shoe‘ wagon and have ballerina flats in leather lined with lambswool (now 50% off!).  And heels.  Crocs heels?!?  They sure have diversified from the original plastic clog.

Here’s the pair I ended up getting (or you could just look at my feet the next time you see me in school..).  They are super comfy and fit my very swollen feet.  I might be trying to make myself feel better, but I think at a (quick) glance they can pass for just brown shoes (until you notice the vent holes).  Plus they were on sale so only having to spend $20 made me feel better about wearing them out in public.  I do feel like I need to be on the lookout for Clinton and Stacy to ask me what the hell is on my feet…but at least I’ll be comfy and won’t have to wear them too much longer, only 4 more weeks!

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Weekly #7: Who do I trust more? Everyone! Or some stuffy squad of so-called ‘editors’?

My family bought an encyclopedia set sometime around 1986 (yes, I realize some of you couldn’t read then, or eat solid foods…).  I was pretty excited to have it sitting on the shelf in the family room, all gleaming blue leather and gold embossed font, some volumes larger than others, some letters combined, others split across two volumes.  It was especially exciting for me because I am a procrastinator at heart and having the encyclopedia in the house meant I could wait later to start school reports and didn’t have to go to the library to look things up anymore.  I also loved getting lost in the encyclopedia (or dictionary) while looking up one thing and spending too much time looking at other, unrelated entries too.   Fast-forward 24 years…now which one do I trust more, the published volume or Wikipedia?

I’m going to have to say my preference is to start with Wikipedia.  I’m not a serious, scholarly researcher; I’m just a normal person looking for information online quickly because I’m still too lazy to go to the library for research.  That said, I am all for knowing how to use the Internet wisely and I always take Wikipedia entries with a grain of salt.  I look to see what source material they’ve cited, then I go to the source material and read it for myself.  I think Wikipedia can be a useful jumping off point, but I never feel that I want to totally trust it without verifying the information further.  To me, Wikipedia is like having a reference librarian at my fingertips to point me in the direction I should look for more information.

What I like about Wikipedia (the citations) is what makes me question published encyclopedias now.  Truth be told, I haven’t looked at one in many years, but I don’t think (or don’t know) what their sources are.  Do they even list them?  I like to be able to look at source data for myself and make up my own mind, and I feel (truthiness alarm going off here..) that Wikipedia is an easier way to do that for day-to-day activities.  I think Wikipedia serves a useful purpose in that sense.  I also appreciate the fact that there are zillions of articles on Wikipedia that would never make it into a regular encyclopedia.  As I’ve already mentioned, I love being distracted and following links and learning new things.  I can’t tell you some of the things I’ve learned about from Wikipedia that would never have been in a traditional encyclopedia.  Is it book learning?  No, but it’s useful to me nonetheless.

My 6th grade niece isn’t even allowed to look at Wikipedia according to her school rules.  In a sense, I can appreciate that the students are being taught how to do actual research in the library, but in another sense I feel bad for her because she thinks Wikipedia is the source of all evil, instead of treating it like the useful point of departure that it is.  Sure, it’s not perfect but it’s a helpful start.

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