Another place I’d like to be…A year ago four hurricanes devastated Florida. Eight months ago, a tsumani tore apart Southeast Asia. This week, Hurricane Katrina has destroyed one of our most exciting cultural cities. If we haven’t made the connection to environmental destruction yet, we ought to real soon. If I weren’t tied to six classes, I’d jump on a plane right now and join the Red Cross boot camp.

Wish I was there…Years ago at summer camp, we enacted a mini-version of Burning Man, and it turned into an intense catharsis of creative energy among 50 people. I can only imagine what it’s like in the desert with 40,000 people.

We can be grateful as Americans that a country as big as ours has a relatively consistent language. While fast-paced Northerners may get annoyed at a slow Southern twang, at least they can understand each other (China’s situation, for example, is entirely different).There are a few regional quirks that one needs to be aware of, though. In New Hampshire (my home state), it was wicked. Wicked is an adverb, and it generally replaces the word “very.” Examples:That’s wicked cool.He ran wicked fast. Please Note: This is not to be confused with the adjective use of wicked, which is found in other New England states. New Hampshirites would call you a grammatical fool if you said, “That’s a wicked shirt you’ve got on today.” I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area, though, and they have their own favorite phrase: hella. Hella can be used everywhere a New Hampshirite says wicked, but it goes further than that. Based on initial observations, it appears that hella can be used not only to replace very, but also to replace really and the adjective, impressive. (As a side note, young San Franciscans sometimes PG version, hecka.) Here are some examples:I hella want to go to that show. (really)Those are some hella shoes. (impressive)This day has been hella long. (very)This evidence further supports my belief that San Franciscans are more relaxed and flexible than New Hampshirites. Further anthropological studies might expose a geographic link between the word wicked and the Salem witch trials. Such studies might also find a link between the liberal lifestyle of San Francisco and its likelihood, in the eyes of conservative Christians, of ending up in hell… but I digress. Since moving here, I’ve caught myself saying wicked several times, and corrected myself. Everytime I use hella, I wince, and then announce to my conversation partner how wicked cool I am that I can learn a new dialect.

Somehow, I’m going to learn 1,000 Chinese characters in 3 months. This is the expectation for a class I’m taking, and it is pretty ambitious. Let me put the goal into perspective:There are about 50,000 characters in the Chinese language. Most of these are archaic or uncommon. You need about 4,000 to be literate / fluent. There are two kinds of characters: traditional and simplified. Simplified characters (as you might guess) are much simpler to learn than traditional. They have fewer lines and components. While some characters are the same in both systems, it can be very hard to recognize a traditional character when you only know its simplified version. Much of China has switched to simplified to increase their literacy rate. I have studied simplified characters in the past, and probably know about 500 simplified characters (on a good day). However, the Chinese class I just joined uses traditional characters. They’re big and scary and I hardly know any of them. I was thinking about folding a paper crane for every new character I learn this semester (à la Sadako) and storing them in my office. By the end, I’ll be able to measure my success by how hard it is to find my computer.

Check this out: YubNubIt’s a search engine. It’s a command prompt line. It scours the internet for virtually anything you could ever ask for, all from one place. And it’s not prohibitively ultra-techie. YubNub is a simple concept: you precede your search with a keyword that explains where you want to do that searching. For example, typing “gim sarah dopp” will run a Google Image Search for my name. It will also bring up a horrible picture from my highschool publishing days on BostonPoet.com, so don’t do it. Other useful commands: y = Yahooam = Amazona = Answers.com (dictionary/encyclopedia)ebay = Ebayrevs = reverse phone number lookupAt the time of this post, there are about 7,400 more commands to chose from. You can also add your own to the list (clearly, many people have done so). Rumor has it that YubNub means “Hooray!” in Ewok language. So go ahead. Make it your homepage.

read it, foo’!

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Put simply, it’s the art of guessing what a search engine needs to rank your website well in its results. I’ve talked to a number of people who believe this is a magical skill. That you must be a specialist — or at least a highly-skilled web developer to build good SEO. That all you need to do is run your site past an SEO Master and VOILA! Search Google for “good stuff” and your site will be #1! Here are the facts:

  1. SEO is not magical. It doesn’t happen quickly and there is no major secret that will propell you to the front lines by tomorrow.
  2. A major component to SEO is knowing what key words people search for to find you, and using those words in your site.
  3. An even more major component is getting related, respected websites to link to your website.
  4. The big secret behind SEO is that it takes work. It takes research, it takes marketing, and it takes analysis. But anyone with a little free time and some motivation can do it.

For a more complete overview of the basics of SEO, check out my article, 10 Ways to Optimize Your Site for Search Engines. Once you have an idea of what you’re getting into, kick off your research at HighRankings.com.This is a necessary skill for owning a successful website. Give it a shot. You can do it.

workshop & publication

Here’s a concept I’ve heard over and over as a law for doing business. One resource called it “The Triangle of Expectations.” It goes like this:There’s good, there’s cheap, and there’s quick. Pick two.

triangle of expectations: good, quick, cheap
The concept here is that it’s realistic to focus on two of those aspects, but it’s rare to get all three. If it’s good and quick, it’s gonna cost you. If it’s quick and cheap, you’ll sacrifice quality. If it’s cheap and good, you probably need to wait for it. Most of us know this subconsciously. It explains why upscale stores are pricey, why dollar stores sell things that break easily, and why that great free gift has a 4 – 6 month wait attached to it. In our conscious minds, though, we tend to forget about it. We each have our own set of preferences, and we view our world through those expectations (mine is cheap and quick — and I dig through those for the good). When working with clients, however, I’m learning it’s important to figure out their subconscious expectations. They may say, “I want it to look good,” when their biggest concern is getting the message out by tomorrow and doing it under budget. It takes tact to find out what’s most important to a client on the Triangle of Expectations, without suggesting that you can’t provide all three. Everyone believes that it’s possible to have all three. But there’s a big difference between a fast food hamburger and a steak.

I’ve had the privelege of working with Brian Koval this year — a personal coach and financial life planner with an inspiring take on life. No, I didn’t enlist his coaching skills (although I did reap the benefits of his unique attitude). Instead, I helped him build a website. Normally, I’d say “I built him a website,” but Brian’s a special case. His introspection and creativity were central to the development of the site. This was truly a collaborate effort. BrianKoval.com went live this week. While it is his professional web presence, this site is no sales pitch. Brian is filling it with inspirational writings and creative representations of himself. He also has a biweekly newsletter, so people can stay connected with his frequent updates. His goal, as he says, is to engage people and spark inspiration. He wants to influence. He wants to be influenced. He wants to restore and transform people to their “divine beauty and purpose.” Brian is dialogue in a world without communication. Check him out and write to him. He’ll write you back.