“Change is time consuming, expensive and rarely happens on schedule.”-Seth GodinI did something different this summer. Scratch that. I did a lot of things different this summer. But here’s the big one: I didn’t live at home. I could have, but I didn’t.nhI mentioned my month-long trip to New Hampshire back in May/June. That was the beginning of it. My plan was to shake out cobwebs, reevaluate how I spend my daily life, and return with new habits and perspective. It worked. Sort of. I spent the first 20 days of that month in detox from my workaholism, not really thinking or doing anything that related to my habitual daily grind. Then, right near the end, I attended a poetry slam and open mic full of more than 30 talented writers. It sparked my thoughts, and I took the long way home that night. At 3 AM, my brain was on perfect fire with plans for what I wanted long-term, and how I could affect my daily life to be more rewarding. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I spent it at a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts with a cup of coffee and a notebook, writing down every last detail. I was going to exercise before work every day! Attend literary events twice a week! Dance! Listen to business audio tapes with an ipod as I walked the city after lunch! Take a class in Flash animation! Read the Wall Street Journal! Stop drinking coffee and alcohol! Learn the subtle details of investing and accounting! Study small business law! Join associations! Attend at least one good networking event a week! Maintain perfectly-updated To-Do lists! Join a church! Become an active contributing member at BlogHer! Schedule time to be a valuable friend and family member! Practice yoga and meditation! And then, in my freetime, I would work. The plan was perfect!I spent the following morning explaining every last detail to a very good friend over breakfast, who kindly smiled and nodded and told me I was right on. I’m sure I looked like a raving psycho by that point, thriving on passion and no sleep, but it was worth it for the moment of clarity. When I got back to San Francisco, I was armed with a written plan for a new life. I dropped my suitcases, looked around my apartment and home office, and heaved a sigh of relief. “Finally! I can work 24 hours a day again! That vacation was way too long!” I called a former client for a web hosting estimate, and he asked if I could start working full-time on a project the next day. On-site. An hour and a half from my home. “Sure!”A week went by before I remembered why I needed to take that vacation in the first place, and what I had learned from it. Apparently I didn’t clean out quite enough cobwebs when I left town. sfbaySo when a friend of mine in Oakland needed a subletter for August, I volunteered. And to make sure I wouldn’t be lazy and stay at my own place, I offered my home to a friend on the East Coast, who flew out for the free vacation spot. In exchange, she cleaned and reorganized it for me, and helped me pick out some new furniture. She did a damned good job at it, too — thank you, Julia!While I was in Oakland, I downsized my workload and spent my time planning new business strategy. While I love doing freelance HTML work, I also have the skills and knowledge to take full responsibility for complex website projects that require complete teams. So I’m assembling a collective firm to have the infrastructure needed to do that. That takes research, discussion, and the wrestling of demons — things that are a lot easier to do when you’re already uncomfortable, living in someone else’s home. Change is about momentum. The big shakeup ended yesterday, when Julia left town and I found myself standing in my home office with suitcases once again. This time, there was a new desk in the corner. I make no promises to myself that I will now live in perfect harmony with my physical, financial, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. Or that I will proceed with my changes exactly as I planned. But I know myself better now.And that’s something.

The booming personals marketplace can get you everything from a high-paying gig to a dental advice to a date on Friday night. But there are often more readers than posters on the site, and competition among responses can be fierce. My advice is this: drop your fear of rejection, and learn to post on it yourself.Here’s how:

  1. Try to offer something of value (like a job, or a free couch) wherever possible, rather than ask for something. You’ll get much better results and very good karma.
  2. Be very specific about what you are offering, and more importantly, what it are not offering. Assume you will get way too many responses for this valuable offer, so narrow them down right at the get-go.
  3. Be very non-specific about what you are asking for. If you want something from someone else, leave it open for interpretation and negotiation. Assume you will get no responses at all if you ask for your ideal. Save specifics for when you have the interested parties in dialogue, and just show genuine interest instead.
  4. Make it interesting. Use lots of humor, especially if you’re asking for something (like a job, or a sale). Do not be average.
  5. Always use the anonymous email address, unless you’re selling something in a way that you already do publicly. You don’t need the spam.
  6. Do not respond to disrespectful emails. If the respondent isn’t acknowledging your full request, they don’t deserve your time, or your real email address. This includes people who are clearly sending you vague form letters. They don’t care about you — don’t spend time caring about them.
  7. Do respond ASAP to any emails you care about. Craigslisters will quickly move onto the next opportunity if you’re quiet for more than a day.
  8. Follow the rules. Don’t post in the wrong place. Don’t try to trick the spam detectors. Don’t pretend to be offering something when you’re really asking. The community will lay its wrath upon you if they don’t think you’re being respectful.
  9. Be okay with hate mail. A sad but true fact about Craigslist is there are a lot of bored people out there who want to yell at you for stupid stuff. If you’re not breaking any rules, take a minute to silently pity their boredom, and then move on.
  10. Take a chance. The beauty of Craiglist is that you don’t have to pay for most postings, and the community decides what’s worthwhile. If you’ve got an idea that you want to throw out into the universe, do it, and see what kind of response you get. If you don’t get anything, go back to the drawing board, revise your game plan, and start again.

Here’s something that you may not be aware of unless there is a transgender person in your life: Not everyone wants to be referred to as “he” or “she.” There are a number of reasons for this, which we won’t get into here, but it really opens a big can of worms in our language. What do we call these people if we can’t say “he” or “she” (and no one really wants to be called “it”)?The answer: Gender neutral pronouns! What are they? Well, there are a a few proposed options floating around, but here’s the set I’ve heard used the most:ze (pronounced “zee”)hir (pronounced “here”)For example:Ze is at the park.I called hir last night. Hir dog is adorable.The cat is also hirs.Ze made hirself dinner.These are, or course, not in common usage yet. But can you just imagine how much easier they’ll make our language if we pull them into common usage and reach total comfort with them? Think of all the times you’ve wanted to say “he/she” or “he or she.” You either settled on the awkward but accurate phrase, or you picked something easier. Maybe you said “he” and pissed off a feminist. Maybe you said “they” and pissed off a grammarian. Maybe you alternated between “he” and “she” in your paragraph and confused people. Maybe you totally restructured the entire sentence so you didn’t have to deal with the problem. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a gender neutral pronoun on hand?It happens all the time in hypothetical situations, especially in writing. It’s also an issue when you’re talking about someone in particular and hir gender hasn’t been identified yet. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just refer to hir as “ze,” come across as totally cool and non-offensive, and get to the point without floundering on word choice?I would argue that this isn’t about politics, or gender presentation, or wreaking havoc on our current system in any way. This is about a problem in our language, and a solution that’s just waiting for us to pick it up. It may be too early to start throwing the pronouns around in your daily speech and expecting people to understand them. But it’s not too early to start talking about it. That’s how it needs to spread. Tell someone you know about gender neutral pronouns, and why they will make hir life easier once we’re all comfortable with their usage. Ze may thank you.

I talked to a business man the other day, and gathered that he was probably a Republican. He was talking about some of the great businessmen in American history, and mentioned Andrew Carnegie — the absurdly successful steel mill owner at the turn of the century. The legend behind Andrew Carnegie’s success is this: He knew very little about steel production, or business ownership, or pretty much anything that he was supposed to be in charge of. But what he did know was how to surround himself with experts and empower them to make decisions. He knew how to leverage the power of intelligent people, he didn’t try to do things himself, and that’s how he succeeded.This business man I was talking to went on to make a modern-day comparison. “I don’t care if you like his politics or not,” he said, “but you have to agree that George W. Bush does the same thing.” I laughed. He was right.

That’s it. I’m cutting myself off. Four conferences in ten days is my max. But oh, did my conferencing streak end with a good one…Today I attended the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Google Dance. My host was Matt VanWagner, a speaker at the conference and the CEO of Find Me Faster, a major search engine marketing agency on the east coast. He brought me along into the expo center (where I ran into BrainJams’ Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells), and also into a session on building good website architecture. Interesting tidbit from the session: You know those websites that use dropdown menus on their homepages, requiring users to choose a country or language before they can even enter the site? Well rumor has it, by doing this they’re preventing search engine spiders from getting through and properly indexing the pages within. “Spiders don’t have mice.”In addition to this, I also attended a private meeting with Matt at Google, where he met with his account reps and discussed his experiences with Google AdWords. I have to say, on Google’s behalf, that they genuinely cared about Matt’s feedback, took his requests seriously, and showed a ton of appreciation for his business. That just cemented my respect for them. I was impressed. They also demonstrated some new products, like the AdWords Editor and their new Video AdWords capabilities. I’m actually really excited about the video ads for two reasons:

  • The ads don’t play automatically. The user sees a static image and hits play only if she is interested in more.
  • The advertiser doesn’t pay for every time someone views the video. They only pay when someone clicks the link attached to it. So you can place video ads, and people can view them as much as they want, and you don’t have to pay for that unless they take the extra step of going to your website.

Frankly, it all sounds too good to be true. I’m sure there’s a catch, and I’ll let you know when I find it. Breaking News: Google is teaming up with MySpace and other Rupert Murdoch-owned ventures for some hardcore advertising. More here.So let’s talk about the Googleplex. Because it’s the tech employee’s equivalent of Disney Land, and because I just spent most of my day there. They have a swimming pool. Beach volleyball. Electric scooters for getting around. A laundry room. Showers. A full workout center. Free high-end gourmet food. Toilets with heated seats and built-in electronic bidets. bidet controls googletoiletsYou heard me. Bidets. Insider Rumor: Google’s trying to double their engineering staff in the next year.googlepeopleI have to admit, aside from the fact that I’m an avid Google user who regularly builds search-engine friendly websites, I felt pretty out of place at this conference. Search engine marketers comprise an intense and highly misunderstood subculture in the high-tech world. They’re an incredibly talented, high-paid, glamorous-lifestyle, close-knit group, and only they seem to really know what they actually do. I was honored to be in their presence, and I smiled politely as they rattled off names of famous people and amazing tools, none of which I had ever heard of. The security guards seemed to agree that I didn’t belong, and tried to have me removed. Twice. Apparently the fact that I wasn’t wearing an official badge caused some issues. Matt had to keep coming to my rescue with an authoritative, “She’s with me!” (Thanks, Matt!)Cool stuff? Cheese. The chefs had a cheeseboard competition, and there were numerous phenomenal presentations of gourmet cheese all over the place. We’re talkin’ avocado-swirled cheddar, brie edged in edible flowers, and staged computer mice trying to get a piece of the action. We also had all the free beer and wine we could drink (too bad I had to drive…), mad scientist ice cream sundaes, “dunk the google guy”, computer-generated music videos with your singing head, a live band, “meet the engineers” (with lots of security — gotta guard those secrets!), product demos, fighting robot battles, and lots of swag. I dubbed myself the Swag Hag tonight. I left town with:

  • A Google Analytics jacket
  • Two Google t-shirts
  • About five variously-structured light-up bouncy balls
  • A Google lego set
  • Five multi-colored Google pens
  • A Webmaster Radio t-shirt
  • A Google notebook (which will sit competitively next to the Yahoo! notebook I got at BlogHer)
  • Two erasers
  • A pink plastic frog that bulges her eyes out when I squeeze her

I drove home with a profound awareness that I live in Silicon Valley. That alone is a phenomenal asset in my life. And Google, I still love/hate you, but I have to say you really do know how to treat people, and I think that’s the whole secret to your success.

You know, this blog really needs a better title. Any suggestions?

Hey Blogosphere!I’m looking for an intelligent programmer who can dive into a new proprietary CMS that’s built in XML with SQL tables and its own unique system of tags — and create new functionality in it. This is a very cool project with a lot of creative freedom. Potential for ongoing work. Who’s game?Please email me: sarah at sarah dopp dot com

I’m blogging now from a BrainJams session in downtown San Francisco. This particular BrainJam is part of a pre-conference training for the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation 2006 Conference. I’d like to say I arrived here on purpose and knew exactly what I was getting into, but that would be a lie. The truth is I was carried here by the BlogHer current, and decided not to argue with the universe. I met Chris Heuer at the first WoolfCamp, where he passionately described the concept of BrainJams to me over cheese and crackers. It’s a place for people to get together, share ideas, talk about what they’re passionate about, and gather resources. More or less a freeform jamming of the brains. I loved it immediately, and then promptly forgot to look up the dates.So when Badgerbag told me to “come on Thursday!” and took it upon herself to sign me up, I just blinked and said, “Okay. Cool.” Chris added to my disorientation by referring to me as one of the most “enlightened technologists he knows” in his welcome email / blog post. (How did I earn that title?)So I did what any sane person would do in such a compelling situation. I showed up. And I’m glad I did. It’s an all-day session that’s still going on (we’re discussing blogs and flickr right now, so I’m taking a mental break to write to you), and I’ve met some amazing people.BrainJams has a signature concept called “Twelve Five-Minute Meetings,” in which people pair up for five minutes, discuss what work they’re most passionate about, offer suggestions or feedback, and then move on to the next pair-up. It was FASCINATING! By far my favorite part of the event (so far). Check this out. Kai is running a project called Orange Band, which is basically a viral guerilla tactic to get people talking about things that matter to them. Jerry runs a guild of right-brain thinkers who stay networked with one another for projects. He’s also been hosting a weekly podcasted conference call on “Conversations About Change” called Yi-Tam. Hal’s got a new business called FAQ Productions in which he interviews professionals on video, finds that unique element about them that makes them real, collaborates with the client to cut the film, and the posts it on their websites as part of their bio. Imagine going to an attorney’s website and seeing a 2-minute video that brings out her personality as a real human being. It’s creative and important. Check out this amazing Flickr-interactive Color Picker from KrazyDad (he’s not here, but someone’s bragging about him). I’m exploding with ideas, and wish I could stay for the the whole conference. People are doing cool things these days, and 40 of them are sitting right next to me.