Friday, July 1, 2011

Social Media Day 2011 - Pittsburgh, PA


Last year, started a "Social Media Day" around the world to celebrate online connectivity. In accordance with the new online holiday, around 80 twitter-ers in Pittsburgh, PA met at the Carnegie Science Center in the roboworld exhibit to recognize Social Media Day 2011. We mingled amongst the robots including C-3PO, R2-D2, and an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner. I even played air hockey against an unbeatable robot.

I met three social media mavens, @techburgh, @scarehousescott, and @mahramus, using twitter handles. I only know their real names after checking twitter, but here is more about them: Andy Quayle @techburgh is an IT Professional, writer of the TechBurgh blog, and founder of the web hosting company Tubu Internet Solutions. Scott Simmons @ScareHouseScott is the Creative Director of TheScareHouse, a haunted house in Pittsburgh named as one of America's best by Travel Channel. According to the website, "Pittsburgh Zombies" is a new haunted attraction starting this Halloween season, can't wait to check that out! Anthony Mahramus @mahramus won the Boba Fett backpack pictured above after completing the scavenger hunt sponsored by Brunner, BHiveLab, and LoyalTree Rewards. The scavenger hunt consisted of four different QR Codes set up around the Carnegie Science Center directing smartphone users with a LoyalTree app and barcode scanning technology. Very geek-tastic!

Next to the roboworld exhibit you will find a walking tour of western Pennsylvania at the Miniature Railroad & Village train exhibit. Hundreds of hand-built scale models fill the room while miniature trains ride alongside. In the pictures above, I have included the new Fallingwater model display and Forbes Field. Truly a Pittsburgh must-see.

After the meetup, I went to The Rivers Casino and won $48! Great day for Pittsburgh, social media, and beating the odds.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Job Hunt in Pittsburgh

Companies and positions in Pittsburgh I have already applied for:
  • Akustica - Sales and Marketing Administrator (Just applied moments ago)
  • ModCloth - Customer Care Representative (Several rounds of interviews. No job offer.)
  • ShowClix - Customer Care Representative (Mentioned on Twitter)
  • EDMC - Online Customer Service Representative (Phone interview. Face-to-face interview later today.)
  • Dick's Sporting Goods - Various website jobs (Rejection email)
  • Best Buy - Mobile Store (Rejection email)
  • Zipcar - Member Services Associate (No response after phone interview)

Jobs I am interested in applying for:

Any other suggestions out there? Or should I focus on getting my online used bookstore, Tome Gnome, off the ground? Or should I focus on writing compelling blog posts?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity in Higher Education

"The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak - when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you're experiencing, when you are fully alive." -Sir Ken Robinson, "Changing Education Paradigms"

Last night, I applied for a position as an Online Customer Service Representative for a company called Education Management Corporation. Later today, I missed a phone call inquiring about my application. While I plan on returning that phone call tomorrow, I started thinking about how to answer the inevitable question, "Why do you want to work here?"

Education Management Corporation (EDMC) emphasizes a career-focused education at each of their 100+ locations across the United States and Canada. One main branch of schools under EDMC is The Art Institutes. In 2007, I participated in a community "unconference" called PodCamp Pittsburgh in which people attended sessions about blogging, social media and Web 2.0 tools held at The Art Institutes of Pittsburgh. The event changed my life in many ways.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh provided the setting for anyone interested in creative self-expression and communication tools in the digital age to gather with like-minded individuals. We discussed different communication platforms, podcasts, blogs, social media, wikis, open source, community, Wikipedia, Second Life - and started conversations in the classroom and online which continue years after the original event. Most of my interest in using blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media tools as a means to create content and develop a community originated at PodCamp.

This is the future of education - communication, collaboration, and creativity - around digital devices and across all borders. If institutions of higher education, such as The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, increasingly become creative spaces to communicate and collaborate, I believe excitement around education will flourish. Now, I have no idea whether this job opportunity will encompass the ideals I have laid out, but events like PodCamp Pittsburgh give me hope.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Digital Bookshelf

In 2011, books are designed to be judged by their covers. We enter bookstores mainly to browse, soak in ideas, and find inspiration. Our books of choice need to jump off the shelf. Bright colors, action shots, and bold text excite us in our entertainment-filled world. Unfortunately, digital books don't come with display copies to impress people we know.

Craig Mod writes in his article, "Post-Artifact Books & Publishing: Digital's effect on how we produce, distribute and consume content" that digital tools and connectivity make books less permanent. The once hardbound, carefully designed and endlessly edited copies are now becoming malleable, spontaneously written, and too easy to produce:

When someone says ‘book’ this is what we think of (but, curiously, we may be one of the last generations to think this). A very specific physicality. We imagine the thick cover. The well defined interior block. We feel the permanence of the object. Inside, the words are embedded in the paper. What’s printed there today will be the same stuff tomorrow. It’s reliable.

With digital, these qualities of printed books listed above become artificial. There is no thick cover constraining length. There are no additional printing costs for color. There is no permanence: the once sacred, unchanging nature of the text is sacred no longer. Updating digital text is trivially easy. When you look at the same digital book tomorrow, it may very well be different from the version you read today.

A great many texts are held sacred from religion to science to philosophy. Now we must cope with our strongest held beliefs being challenged, remixed, and transformed digitally before our eyes. The ideas we adopted to shape our identities, the very permanent texts we proudly display on our shelves are losing their intrinsic value. We are left with an aesthetic value.

Marketing and business advice guru, Seth Godin, said in this interview on the website The Rise to the Top about the bookstore of the future: "A souvenir shop for smart people, that's what bookstores are going to become." I think physical and digital books will both become souvenirs as information will be everywhere, but at least we can decorate our homes with the former.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nerd Chic

Nerd Chic

Reversible dress
$160 -

Reversible dress
$55 -

Fitted tee
$28 -

Patent leather shoes
$200 -

Ankle wrap heels
$50 -

Retro jewelry
$60 -

Holding Pattern Makeup Bag
$24 -

All Ears Bookend
$50 -

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Math, Science, and Nerdiness

The Social Network, Mythbusters, Barack Obama - in 2011 nerds have won the hearts and minds of people everywhere.  The pied piper of nerdiness, Weird Al Yankovic, has been entertaining crowds for over three decades.  The song "White and Nerdy" (released in 2006) went platinum and became the biggest hit of his career thus far.  Weird Al's Twitter account currently has around two million followers.  Back when Weird Al first gained popularity, a listener may have kept their closet fandom a secret.  Now 18-34 year old males flock to Cartoon Network to watch Adult Swim TV shows with characters like Weird Al on a daily basis.

Shows such as Mythbusters, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory make math and science relevant to young viewers.  Whereas older generations had precious few science fiction outlets (mainly books and movies), children today have an endless amount of scientific and technological entertainment at their fingertips - computers, cell phones, tablets, video games, etc.  Gamers view World of Warcraft (WoW) as a way of life rather than merely a game.  Players of WoW can spend years developing their characters, community and even conducting virtual business transactions in game - all chronic habits parodied on the Web Series "The Guild."

Since "nerd" is the new mainstream, "hipster" seems to be the 2010s word to describe adolescents who wish to convey intellectual superiority.   According to Urban Dictionary, hipsters are "a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter."  Hipster may sound like a new concept, except that in the 90s that definition meant "grunge," in the 80s "punk," and in the 70s "hippie."

Unfortunately, much like the preceding groups promoting counter-cultural ideas, most hipsters do not seem to be trending towards the math, science, and engineering fields.  While young generations today have access to the world's information in their hand with their smartphones, many spend way more time updating Facebook photos than on learning the computer programming languages used to create the community in the first place.  The world continues to drown in a financial crisis engineered my mathematicians on Wall Street creating derivative markets that many people refuse to try and understand.
The field of robotics continues to produce machines which outperform workers across the globe.  How long can society remain content to watch an elite group of scientists and engineers produce a future beyond our collective intellect?

We no longer have excuses.  It is no longer uncool to learn.  The information is right here.  Let's do the work.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Profanity in blogging: "Sh*t My Dad Says" and "F My Life"

Pain and profanity can be very funny.  What may start out as simply distressing can often be turned into humor as a way to relieve tension.  Thanks to the web, pain is now viral.  Two examples of websites using pain and profanity to create a market for their amusing stories are "Sh*t My Dad Says" and "F My Life."

Sh*t My Dad SaysSh*t My Dad Says is a Twitter feed based on author Justin Halpern's musings from his endearingly profane father.  While his dad swears in most of the quotes, he also shows genuine concern for his son.  Here are some of his words of wisdom:

"Don't focus on the one guy who hates you. You don't go to the park and set your picnic down next to the only pile of dog shit."

"YOU, a published writer?..Internet don't count. Any asshole can throw shit up on there."

"Pressure? Get married when you want. Your wedding's just one more day in my life I can't wear sweat pants."

Justin started posting these witticisms after his girlfriend dumped him and he moved back in with his parents at age 28.  He writes in the book, "The more time I spent with my dad in those first couple of months back home, the more grateful I started to feel for the mixture of honesty and insanity that characterized his comments and personality."  Clearly, the honesty appealed to his readers as well - his twitter feed currently has over two million followers and his book went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller.  The reader's disbelief at the level of sincerity in the relationship between father and son makes the stories so compelling and brutally funny.

F My LifeF My Life is a blog fueled by authentic stories of misery submitted by users.  All posts start with "Today" and end with "FML," and generally remain only a few sentences long.  The following posts from the website are about unbelievable circumstances:

"Today, while at the Golden Gate Bridge, I spotted a large group of Asians trying to take a picture. Trying to be a diplomat, I slowly say "You... want me... take picture?" while using hand motions. The man looks at me and says 'No thanks asshole, I got it,' in plain English. FML"

"Today, I was at McDonald's and I was going through the drive-thru. As I was driving away, I checked my food and the lady had given me a Night at the Museum Happy Meal toy by mistake. I got so excited that I crashed the car into a pole.  I'm 36. FML"

"Today, I went out with my family and boyfriend for dinner. We were all having a good time, and suddenly at the end of dinner he decides to kneel down on one knee, take out an engagement ring, and say 'I choose you, Pikachu,' with a straight face. He was serious.  FML"

The FML website explains: "This is a space where you can let it all out and unwind by sharing the little things that screw with your day, and maybe realize that you are not alone in experiencing day-to-day crap.  There now, don't you feel better?"  As you can see, the creators of the website are not telling users to use profanity just for the sake of cursing.  Instead, they created a safe space to share your story with a group of equally pain-riddled listeners and find comfort in shared experiences.

Readers would probably not follow websites entitled "Stuff My Dad Has Mentioned" or "My Life Kind of Sucked Today."  Authors often use extreme language to make stories more honest and intense.  The writing will not appeal to everyone and censorship works to lessen the raw emotion conveyed by severe speech.  However, when the stories genuinely work to relieve tension instead of create it, I find it hard to argue with the use of any particular words.

Now, if you're worried about your children repeating upsetting curse words found online, perhaps you can take the advice given in this YouTube video:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Knowing What You're Worth: Monetary Edition

Welcome to Promoting Yourself 101.

Today's Lesson: Jackie the Violin Teacher.

Now, to some of you, Jackie and her violin may sound like a snooze fest.  We don't all love Mozart.  So, how did Jackie turn what may be perceived as a classical yawn-a-thon into an amazing violin rockin' performance like Dave Matthews Band playing "Ants Marching" in Central Park?

Jackie needed to learn how to develop her self worth and promote her work to potential clients.  She decided to try Ramit Sethi's Earn1K program which offered her consultation on financial and business plans.  Ramit Sethi is the New York Times bestselling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, who described himself at one point in the book as "a weird twentysomething Indian who chooses a four-door Accord for his dream car and prides himself on his credit score."  He also knows how to promote himself as you can see on his website, Wikipedia article, Twitter feed, and LinkedIn profile.

In the beginning, Jackie successfully negotiated down her cell phone, car insurance, and utility bills.  She started to get comfortable asking for more than what she was getting.  Turning her focus onto her studio, she decided to raise her hourly rate for teaching.  The reason why she didn't raise her rate beforehand was psychological.  Essentially, she didn't know how to ask for it.  Now, given her newly-formed negotiation skills, she realized she was worth more both psychologically and monetarily.

During the course, she corresponded with Ramit to keep him up-to-date on her accomplishments.  Prior to Earn1K she was already freelancing, comforted in the knowledge that she was a "awesome musician and instructor."  However, she worried about not having any business experience.  She never "pitched or actively sought clients," instead she came by new students passively.  By the time she finished the program, she had completely changed her mindset.  She realized that the best way to get noticed was to become more noticeable.

One modern idea she used to promote her business included sending out a monthly e-newsletter with YouTube videos, student performances, achievements, free music and MP3s.  She sent it out to family members of the performers and possible clients.  Both her students and her studio benefited from this sharing of media that was personal and powerful.  The newsletter created a connection to her audience and gave the performers recognition for their efforts.

Once she became known as the "high-end violin shop," as opposed to the "cheapskate know-nothing instrument shack," as she colorfully wrote in one e-mail, Jackie's studio name and reputation turned into a source of pride.  She no longer felt like she had to convince others of her worth, in fact, most people approached her based on the enthusiastic reviews of her clients.  The extra money received from her new clientele boosted her confidence, and she realized the value in owning and marketing her own business.  As a result, she encouraged her students to "busk" (play music outside for cash) in order to experience those same feelings of independence.

Now, Jackie is making $81,000+ for the year and closing in on $90K.  She wrote, "I didn't think I would ever make 6 figures, due to being in the arts.  Now, I am confident that I will do at LEAST that much." out there on the bench waiting for an invisible coach to put you in this game of life, what is an hour of your time worth?

This article was written as an "application" to work for Ramit Sethi.  His post about hiring a Case Study Writer can be found here.  I thought it worked just as well as a blog post on Echo Bounce.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vulnerability and Blogging: "My Secret Public Journal"

Stand-up comedians are wide open to receive verbal abuse of all kinds.  Basically, one person stands on a stage in a room full of strangers with different expectations and tries to elicit a positive response of acceptance (laughter) from everybody.  Public humiliation is constantly at stake.  Comedians may be "licensed fools" but they walk a fine line between providing the jokes and becoming just a fool.  When the stories told on stage are personal and carry emotional weight, the performer needs to be completely comfortable with being vulnerable.  One comedian that embraces his vulnerability and makes a strong connection with the audience is Mike Birbiglia.

Mike also writes a blog called "My Secret Public Journal."  In the video above, Mike explains why he started writing personal thoughts publicly on the internet.  His therapist recommended that he write down his most intimate stories and painful memories to help put things into perspective.  He then decided to start journaling on the blog, which gave him material for the CD - My Secret Public Journal Live, which was followed by the DVD - Mike Birbiglia: What I Should Have Said Was Nothing - Tales From My Secret Public Journal, most recently the book, Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories, and upcoming Off-Broadway show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.  I think we can all agree the blog was a lucrative idea.

He also tells his stories on NPR.  Painfully true stories.  Stories we can probably all relate to because we've experienced many of them growing up - a first kiss, starting to date, sleepwalking out of a second story window... Those stories would be hard to talk about in candid detail for most of us.  Mike somehow overcomes his anxiety for retelling life's awkward personal moments in an extremely funny way.

On October 29th, 2010, Mike posted a journal entry about releasing his book, Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories, in it he writes:

 "I was having deep anxiety for the month leading up to the book release because there was only one early review in August.  It was from Kirkus, which I had heard of.  And it completely panned the book.  It said, 'He delivers predictable material on gluttony, bodily functions and sleepwalking.'  It was a really difficult thing to resolve because on the one hand I want criticism but on the other hand, this person clearly didn't read the book.  How could you possibly describe jumping through a second story window in your sleep as 'predictable?'

Then I started second-guessing the whole book, thinking maybe I accidentally added in 65 pages on bodily functions and 'gluttony' in my sleep!  Or that I had forgotten to mention that I jumped out a second story window and kept in only the predictable sleepwalking stories.  Then I realized that Kirkus just didn't read the book and the person didn't know or care who I was and had to do it as an assignment and decided instead to write their best guess of what a book called "Sleepwalk With Me" might be like.  Good try, Kirkus!"

If you check Amazon reviews now, you'll see the book received an average of 4.5 stars with 93 reviews.  Clearly, the book resonated with actual readers.  Most reviews are glowing.  A few are not so encouraging.  The point is not whether the book is worth reading (BTW- it is worth reading twice actually, first for the hilarity, second for the poignancy), it is about putting your thoughts out there for the world to see even with all the instant criticism.  We all second-guess ourselves and our work, but when you can overcome the anxiety and hit the publish button (in the case of a blog), you just never know how many good things may come of it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Three Inspiring Websites

Three websites that inspire me:


We all know because of the Geico commercials. The site provides a movie-making service for the masses. I spent a large part of my day today creating the video seen above. If you enjoy it, great! If not, well then I wasted several hours. Fun times though. I suppose I could have written this post without making the video, but people believe what you do, not what you say.

According to their mission as stated on the site: "Movie-making, short and long, online and on-screen, private and public, will be the most important communications process of the 21st century." Agreed. Now you can make movies from your living room with your keyboard.

2) is the most beautiful, simply designed, and addictive shopping site I have ever visited. They sell vintage and retro clothing, accessories, and decor. The "New Arrivals" are updated several times throughout the day with limited quantities. If you are like me, the "newness" of the merchandise will inspire you to visit daily and dream about pretty new outfits. The uniqueness of the items will enliven your fashion sense.

3) Ted Talks

TED started in 1984 as a conference about Technology, Entertainment and Design. Since then, the conference has spread to inspire speakers around the world to gather and give talks about ideas that can change the world. Hundreds of Ted Talks are available on the website to watch for free, most of them 15 minutes or less in length. I encourage everyone to watch as many as possible, one short video in particular I love is Jake Shimabukuro playing "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the Hawaiian ukulele.

On the internet especially, a picture is worth a thousand words. A video is probably worth closer to 10,000. Honestly, no matter how many words, we would all probably still enjoy a picture.

Words, written or said aloud, can inspire. When accompanied by pictures or videos, the experience becomes infinitely more dynamic. President John F. Kennedy made a national goal of putting a man on the moon with a speech. The speech was inspiring. However, the footage of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon completely transfixed the nation. Everyone watching realized the impossible was possible.

These three websites allow me to dream, to stretch my imagination beyond what I previously thought possible.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Corporate Blogging...zzz...but wait...

When corporations think about blogging they shouldn't think about revenue, acquisitions, and liabilities.  To make a connection with their audience, they should think of their company like a family and their blog posts like conversations around the dinner table.  The best dinner table moments happen when you feel full and satisfied like your time wasn't wasted.  Topics can range from interesting things you saw that day to what you learned in school, but while your story may be educational, it should not be boring.  And if you're lucky, you might say something humorous enough that someone shoots milk out of their nose.

The following three company blogs make me feel at home:

1) Whole Story: The Official Whole Foods Market Blog

Visiting Whole Story is kind of like talking to the owner of Whole Foods while he sets out the produce and you rummage through the cucumbers. He give you some suggestions for snacks while you watch the big game, tells you about a movie he watched recently, and lets you know about his recent involvement in the community.  He asks you "how are things?"  Finally, he wishes you well and tells you he hopes to see you back again real soon.

2) Salty Caramel: Jeni's Spendid Ice Cream Blog

Jeni's Ice Cream is a local Columbus, Ohio establishment delivering interesting and unique ice cream flavors.  Trying Jeni's ice cream is like going on a first date.  Even if you are just starting out and you like some things, but you're not sure about other things, the relationship is still full of potential.  Some of the new flavors currently featured on the blog include: Corn Syrup with Whiskey & Pecans, Kir Sorbet, and Ugandan Vanilla Bean.

3) The Ikea Blog

This isn't actually Ikea's corporate blog, but it should be!  Most of the posts on this blog praise the sleek designs and products available at Ikea, with a few insults thrown in to make sure their head doesn't get too big.  This blog is like your mom telling you how proud she is of your accomplishments while your older brother gives you a charlie horse with a punch to the thigh.  It would be very refreshing if corporate blogs could make fun of themselves, or at least didn't take themselves so seriously.

Invite your readers to come to the dinner table and hear your stories.  Create a delicious meal.  But remember, the reader doesn't have to sit politely through the whole meal, in fact, they will probably leave as soon as you ask them to eat their vegetables.