Look out world! My wild-minded social-commentating graphic designer buddy extraordinaire just launched a long-overdue blog. Expect useful tech tips, valuable design savvy, and raw observations about the absurd ways in which we live. If it’s anything like his other undertakings, this will likely snowball into… aHUGEproduction.

I have 10 browser windows open (including tabs… thank you Firefox), iTunes playing a variety of songs, a handful of other programs open mid-project, my inbox boasting a number of unanswered emails, papers strewn across my desk, my new pride-and-joy large whiteboard displaying several color-coded things-to-do lists next to a half-finished brainstorm, and a spiral bound notebook boasting a brain-purge list of everything on my mind that I haven’t yet taken care of.And I’m staring blankly at a wall.When the noise around me starts to resemble the static of a missing television station, I realize I’m no longer acting. I’m reacting. And not very effectively at that. I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. It’s the multitasker’s reality, the self-employed professional’s life, the modern American situation. We live at the levels we expect to live at. We expect certain levels of noise, procrastination, and disatisfaction. There’s a threshold of pain we don’t allow ourselves to go beyond, and there’s a threshold of peace we don’t allow ourselves to enter. We know our limits, we chock them up to reality, and we stay within them.It takes a lot of work to change those limits. Right now, I’m exploring the options for reducing the noise in my life, and battling myself in internal debates. Half of me is struggling to be more aware and make decisions to simplify the distracting stimuli around me, while the other half of me is fighting tooth and nail to maintain those comfortable levels of noise. I reduce one thing, another one pops up. I spend an hour examining my patterns, and then follow it with two hours zoning out on autopilot. Breaking habits is a process of negotiation.You can either jump into the cold water from the cliff and risk a heart attack and paralysis, or you can ease yourself in and take all day.

Update: 1/29/06The very sweet manager at the local Sprint store defended me to the higher-ups and secured my insurance. Thank you, Duane. And thank you, Sprint. We’ll just put this matter behind us now and get back to the mutually beneficial relationship that we’ve had in the past… sound good?-Sarah

Attention Blogosphere: Sprint is providing me with extremely poor customer service right now to the point where I’m seriously angry, and they just don’t seem to care.Attention Sprint: If you’ll just resolve my issue, I’ll retract this public complaint and once again sing your praises to the world. I really don’t like being angry with you, but you’re displaying a level of incompetence right now that I just can’t accept.Generally, I’m pretty happy with Sprint. They have great coverage in the places I’ve lived. Their customer service is friendly. Their phones tend to have more features than most companies. Their new Fair and Flexible plan makes me jump for joy. They didn’t charge me a contract-breaking fee when my ex left my plan and started his own account. They even have a great website, which is something that matters to me. But they’re not treating me well right now, and I’m running out of options. We’re talking about 3 months of back-and-forth phone calls that have done no more than send me in circles, as well as a number of blatant customer service botches. Let me take you through the experience. Read the rest of this entry »

I have another fun toy for you. This one goes out to all the Creative Professionals out there — those who have something to offer as unique and marketable individuals. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s everyone. LinkedIn is an online community site for networking professionals. Be honest, now. You really don’t want to be searching for a job, client, or new business contact with your facebook or friendster accounts. This one is purely professional, focusing on your goals, accomplishments, and connections. As with any website marketed to professionals, not all of its features are free. But I’ll tell you what is free: creating a full profile, linking to people you know, writing endorsements (testimonials) for your contacts, and introducing your connections to each other. You can also search for new jobs, contacts, services, etc, and use your network to get you closer to those targets. If you’re “A” and you want to get to “C,” go talk to your buddy “B” and she’ll probably hook you up. And that’s enough free stuff for me to dub this site completely worthwhile for all of our efforts. Go sign up, and start by connecting with me (just search for “Sarah Dopp” and I’m there). Or tell me your email and I’ll connect you to my network with an invitation. All of a sudden, you’re network will include everyone I’ve already connected with (instant friends!). If there’s anyone in my network you’d like to have on your side, just tap me on the shoulder and ask for an introduction. If I’ve worked with you and you’d like me to write an endorsement, just give me a nudge and it’ll be up there. Or maybe I’ll notice how I can help you out, and take those steps on my own. Whatever you want to use the site for for, I think you should join the game. I can do so much more for you when we’re working in the same systems. And I think this one will be good.

There’s a new concept floating around out there that I’d like to explore further: Have everything, own nothing. If you can get past the typical American “pride of ownership” issues, you can have a lot more for a lot less. A great example of this is Pandora.com. It’s a music site that allows you to build your own “radio stations,” or audio streams, based on your favorite types of music. But the great thing is, it does it so intelligently. You start by naming your favorite artist or song. Pandora then references the style, quality, and influences of that artist or song, and compiles a list of similar songs by various artists. It’s a great tool for discovering new music based on what you already like. You can have multiple stations, and multiple artists named per station.Even more, I appreciate the interface. They get you started quickly. I went to the site, saw a big text box, typed “Ani Difranco,” and Boom! “As Is,” one of her most popular songs, started playing. They named the attributes of her music style, and then started playing a female vocalist I loved but had never heard of. I checked “I like this song,” and they kept playing good stuff of that variety.For me, this is a gem. I haven’t invested money in new music in years, and I stopped downloading it from the web when it became super-policed (I try to be a good girl, you know…). As a result, I haven’t discovered new artists in awhile. Now I can, and it’s completely free and legal, because I don’t own it. Someone else does, and I just tell them what I want to hear. I’ve also set up some instrumental and world music stations, and I’m using them for backround music when I’m working. I think I just found my new favorite minimized web browser window. Check it out yourself.(Thanks to Dougie for the tip.)

Seth Godin, my acclaimed marketing guru, just made an excellent point with an excellent analogy and based it on a falsehood. I had to wince. But it’s intriguing and worth discussing, so let’s throw it out on the table.

Five thousand years ago, every human was a hunter. If you were hungry, you got a rock or a stick and you went hunting.The problem was that all of the animals were either dead or really good at hiding.Fortunately, we discovered/invented the idea of farming. Plant seeds, fertilize em, water em, watch em grow and then you harvest them.The idea spread and it led to the birth of civilization.Everyone got the idea… except for marketers.Marketers still like to hunt.What we’re discovering, though, is that the good prospects are getting really good at hiding. —Seth’s Blog, 1/11/06

He makes a great underlying point: in order to succeed in marketing at a large scale, you need to create your own prospects. That’s poignant, creative, and true. He’s just got a little work to do on his logic. “The problem was that all of the animals were either dead or really good at hiding.” Sorry. Wrong answer. We didn’t go hungry in our hunter-gatherer days, nor did we kill off all of the animals in sight. There was always enough for what we expected of ourselves–modest population sizes in tight-knit tribes that took care of its members. There’s a lot to be said for the tribal lifestyle, not the least of which was its trust in and compassion for the land it lived on. We didn’t take more from the land than we needed, and we didn’t try to control our neighbors’ food supplies. The main difference between our hunter-gatherer days and our farming civilization days were size and settlement. When we took control of our own food, our population numbers exploded, and we no longer needed to keep moving around. With the added stability, we started putting time into other advancements, like technology that could make even more food, so we could have more people and make more advancements. And that’s still a great business model. To compare it again to marketing, we limit our success by allowing our prospects to be in control. If you can create and control prospects, your potential explodes. You can expand, you can dominate the market you want, and you can create more of what you love. It’s not that prospects are dead or hiding. It’s that they aren’t plentiful enough to meet your great ambitions, which, in the capitalist world, exceed the basic needs for livelihood. That’s just how the system works. But of all the analogies, Seth had to pick this one. What does it say about a happy ending? Yes, we’re in a “thriving civilization,” but we’re also becoming increasingly aware of the damage we’ve done to our land by dominating it. We need the land to survive, and yet we’re pumping it clean of resources and polluting its atmosphere. Our population exploded happily, but now we have more than 6 billion people. And although we have enough food for all our people, we distribute it unevenly in the name of commerce–the system that brought us to where we are–and many starve. And those who have plenty of food take it for granted, and don’t understand what a gift it is to have it. Our explosion has been self-destructive, and we are only just beginning to feel its consequences.While I realize this is a bleak perspective on the analogy, I think it brings up some important questions. What are the consequences of creating and controlling your marketing prospects? What damage does it do those people, whom you rely on for your livelihood? How much success can you handle while still taking care of what matters most to you? And how will it imbalance the systems around you? Generally, I’m gung-ho about marketing and idea viruses, but only when they’re done ethically. The concept of growing your own prospects opens a can of worms for abuse and loss of control. We see it most disturbingly in teen marketing, where the industries feed a cycle of “cool” that pushes teens toward more and more extreme behavior. Young minds are malleable, and the marketers plant whatever seeds they want to see grow there. Marketers have more influence over the upcoming generations than parents do. Is that a good thing?Where do you draw the line?

The Fix-Me-Up You see them on MySpace, Livejournal, and other blog spaces with a young-ish crowd: long, text-heavy “About Me” surveys without any formatting. The writers spend hours answering detailed questions about themselves, from their shoe sizes to their most recent sexual encounters, and then they post them for their friends to read. The trouble is, their friends squint at these surveys, try to scan for the interesting parts, and eventually click away because it’s just a big blob of text. This is a sample of one I just grabbed off the web (the full version is 135 questions):

1. Is your bellybutton an innie or outie?: Innie2. What is your heritage?: English3. What does your hair look like right now?: like hair4. Could you ever be a vegetarian?: probably not5. When was your last heartbreak?: never?6. Describe your looks: long hair…7. If you had to completely dye your hair, what color would it be? a reddish, copper, bronze color8. Would you ever date someone younger than you? no

Wouldn’t you rather read this?

  1. Is your bellybutton an innie or outie?: Innie
  2. What is your heritage? English
  3. What does your hair look like right now? like hair
  4. Could you ever be a vegetarian? probably not
  5. When was your last heartbreak? never?
  6. Describe your looks: long hair…
  7. If you had to completely dye your hair, what color would it be? a reddish, copper, bronze color
  8. Would you ever date someone younger than you? no

Or this?

  1. Is your bellybutton an innie or outie?:
        Innie
  2. What is your heritage?
        English
  3. What does your hair look like right now?
        like hair
  4. Could you ever be a vegetarian?
        probably not
  5. When was your last heartbreak?
        never?
  6. Describe your looks:
        long hair…
  7. If you had to completely dye your hair, what color would it be?
        a reddish, copper, bronze color
  8. Would you ever date someone younger than you?
        no

…or any other variation on formatting that separates question from answer and guides your eye down the page? The trouble is, the writers aren’t quite so invested in these surveys that they want to spend another few hours figuring out how to make them look good with html tags. So they write. And only their most devoted friend bothers to read. And the web is cluttered with ugliness. Let’s fix this, shall we? Surveys aren’t going to go away, so let’s make them prettier and readable. The FixI have a solution to propose, and I’m throwing it out there for anyone who’d like to take it on (my plate is full and this need can’t wait). Here it is: Read the rest of this entry »

If your passion is to lead organizations that change the world in significant–and meaningful–ways, we want to hear from you. –Robert L. Joss, Professor and Dean, Stanford Graduate Business School

I am going to Stanford for my MBA.No, they haven’t accepted me yet. But that’s only because I haven’t applied. Rest assured, it will all happen. But I have some work to do first. Here’s the list:

  • Fill my head with business info from some key books (suggestions?).
  • Take a business math class.
  • Take an economics class.
  • Take the GMAT and do exceptionally well (Stanford doesn’t require the “exceptionally well” part, but I might as well do that anyway).
  • Get a summer 2006 internship with a Stanford Graduate Business School alum (my eye is on you, Seth Godin. When are you announcing your next big project?).
  • Get a recommendation letter from that alum.
  • Start volunteering at a local nonprofit that uses my technical & professional writing skills (suggestions?), and get a recommendation letter from my direct supervisor there.
  • Incorporate The Writ as a tax-exempt nonprofit.
  • Secure grant money for The Writ and start giving the staff stipends.
  • Get a peer recommendation letter from Julián Esteban Torres, my partner in literary organization crime.
  • Write a personal essay about my work on The Writ.
  • Pick something else remarkable that I’ve done and write another personal essay about it.
  • Learn Chinese (hey, it can’t hurt).
  • Get my bachelor’s degree (note to self: don’t forget this one).

Consider this my New Year’s Resolution. With the possible exception of incorporating The Writ (the govt. likes to drag its feet on such issues), I intend to do all of this in 2006.Wish me luck and send me tips (only encouraging ones). I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

This is in response to the cribnotes post about our culture’s “war on Christianity” this holiday season…Dear Stephen,I’m glad you started this post with examples. You make a strong argument, and that’s a refreshing change of pace these days. Personally, I tend to side with the left on this one: Christianity has been forced on too many people for too long, and an education in diversity is crucial for pulling our culture to a higher ground. But just as I believe a feminist is wrong to place herself above men, I agree that it’s destructive to cut Christmas out of that education in diversity. In some situations, it’s appropriate to argue that Christianity gets plenty of attention in the rest of our culture, so we need to emphasize the other traditions whenever we get the chance. But yeah, cutting a secular christmas carol from a concert while leaving in “O Hanukkah” is absurd.It’s not a war on Christianity, at least not compared to the scale of war Christianity has waged on other cultures throughout history. It’s not a war on Christmas either. You had it right with the first point. It’s political correctness run amok. Pendulums of influence swing back and forth until they come to a common ground. And we HAVE made a hell of a lot of progress over the years toward what I believe to be the ideal goal: tolerance, acceptance, and peaceful coexistance across the board. As for “Chrismakkuh,” if you have one Jewish parent and one Christian parent, it’s just a term for what you’ve always celebrated. Don’t forget that Christmas as we celebrate it today is a blend of multiple traditions and holidays–including pagan–that came about when different cultures needed to coexist. It’s fair to keep Christmas on the front lines of the holiday season, as long as there’s space for the other equally significant holidays on the front lines as well. But–to use your analogy–both sides keep taking things too far, shooting off their mouths too much, and knocking out each others’ teeth. It’s time for a little more “live and let live” if you ask me.Peace,Sarah