On the outside looking in

Ever feel like you’re on the outside looking in?


This is the first time since 2004 that I haven’t been a part of an opening of school and a new academic year, and it’s weird. In some ways, I imagine it is what it feels like to go through detox or to lose a limb—feeling things that aren’t there anymore.

The anxiety is ramping up. Butterflies are fluttering in my stomach. I am trying as hard as I can to make use of every available free second I have. I find myself still dreading the changing of the leaves, and the prospect of the crazy opening of school schedule with endless faculty meetings in which everyone is glued to either their phones or laptops, the faculty party in which everyone asks what I did this summer (I worked, dammit!), and the arrival of students excited to see their friends again after the summer break.

My body seems to still be anticipating exhausting travel to sometimes awful and sometimes awe-inspiring but mostly mundane corners of the globe. Shouldn’t I be spending much more time on Delta’s and Marriott’s website? Shouldn’t I be calling my travel agent? Shouldn’t I be calling my counterparts at other schools trying to coordinate some crazy trip around the world?

And yet, none of that is coming for me this year. I’m watching others go through it—friends and past colleagues—and I keep asking myself, “Will I miss it?”

Will I wake up in the middle of some October night wondering where I am as I have done many times each fall?

Will I wake up one morning and momentarily panicked, wondering if I’m supposed to be on a plane, headed to some unknown country?

Will I scan my brain wondering how to say, “Thank you” in the native language while ordering my latte at the coffee shop down the street?

“Will I miss it?”

No. No, I don’t believe I will. But old habits and rhythms take time to run their course.


Tidbits from old notebooks

Last week I posted about my collections of various notebooks while I was on a crazy trip to Houston, Texas for a school fair. Part of the inspiration for that post were the four notebooks I brought along with my in my carry-on. I’m not really sure why I brought all of them. I could have easily left two of them behind, but I brought them none-the-less.

I’m glad I did too. One of the notebooks was an older one that I had filled a while back with a whole collection of random notes. I did stumble upon some gems from conferences I had attended in the last year. I also had some good notes from Jim Collins’s, Good to Great and Stephen E. Ambrose’s, Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier and President. Below are some of those:

“You have only 11 seconds to make a first impression. Make it count.”
This is from a conference presentation about tour guides given by the admissions team at Maderia. Good advice.


“In your first 90 days as a new director, you should force yourself to be uncomfortable and do not allow yourself to regress in the comfortable.”

“Focus your energy on the things that only the director can do.”
“Never check email in the morning.”
These were from a webinar for new directors of admission given by Ben Douglas of St. James School and Andrew Weller of Ridley College.
I don’t have a direct quote here, just some of my handwritten notes I took while reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great. I feel like the power of that book might be diminished a bit after the recession and the fact that a bunch of the companies he references in the books were total criminals, but it still does have value. I particularly like his use of a bus as an analogy to staffing. He describes the importance of getting the wrong people off of the bus, the right people on the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus. Once you do that, then your organization can reach its potential.

And finally, from Stephan E. Ambrose’s biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soldier and President: “…only a man that is happy in his work can be happy in his home and with his friends. Happiness in work means that its performer must know it to be worthwhile, suited to his temperament, and, finally, suited to his age, experience and capacity for performance of a high order.” 

My Notebook Obsession

I’ve become rather notorious for my notebooks. I have one with me constantly, and I take notes in every meeting in which I am a part.  There’s something satisfying about putting pen to paper rather than just plucking away a keyboard. For me, there is something in the motion that helps me to remember.  Regardless, I figured I’d share my current notebook methodology here.

Black, medium-sized and squared. This is my primary note taking notebook. It goes with me to every meeting, conference, or any other opportunity where I need to take general notes. I go through about one or two of these a year. I like and the portability of it. I prefer squares to lines because of my doodling habit. It also helps if I ever need to map something out. The pocket in the rear is perfect for storing receipts from travel. I never throw them out and will often go back and review my notes, especially from conferences.

Continue reading “My Notebook Obsession”

Why I Can’t Quit My DIRECTV or Why Internet TV Is Useless

I so wanted to quit my DIRECTV.

I wanted to quit not because I disliked the service.  In fact, I love it, and perhaps that’s why I’m finding it so hard to leave.

Here’s what I like:

Channel selection.  It’s great.  At the basic level, I get all the channels that I would ever want to watch including NESN, ESPN, BBC America, The Travel Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Food Network and The Cooking Channel.

Our current favorite shows: Downton Abbey, any of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, my wife watches anything on the Cooking Channel and Food Network.

The picture is clear and sharp.  I had cable previous to my DIRECTV and it was crap.  DIRECTV’s picture is ten times better.

Their customer service is top notch.  No confusing mazes when you call their 800 number, bright, upbeat, and extremely helpful people when you call, the few issues I’ve ever had have been fixed almost immediately.  Their Twitter support is useless, but otherwise it’s overall great customer service.

Their interface.  It’s intuitive, bright and aesthetically pleasing.  I’ve used cable interfaces, and I can’t figure it out.  The channel order doesn’t make any sense and it’s ugly.  Plus I can easily record shows from my iPhone.

So why would I leave?

The one negative?  The price.  It costs me something like $95 a month.

So I bought a Roku hoping to save some cash and jump into the new hot thing.  Perhaps given my love of my current service, it’s not surprising that I’m disappointed with the Roku.

Here was my original idea:

Buy a Roku box – initial investment of $65
Subscribe to: MLB, NFL, & NBA (Sorry NHL) – $125,  $299, for a total of $593
I already have Netflix – $8.99
And I’m an Amazon Prime Member – $45 (student discount don’t ask me why?)

This would save me $300 in the first year and more thereafter especially given the Celtics season and hopes for the future.

Unfortunately, there were a few hitches in this pan.  One is that local teams are blacked out on these season subscription packages.  For MLB it’s 90 minutes after the end of the game.  On nights that Josh Beckett’s pitching, that literally means tomorrow. *Update* This is further proof that the west coast is the best place to live if you’re an east coast sports fan.  Football starts at 10 a.m. and even when Beckett pitches, Sox games wrap up before 9 p.m. Plus, you have a couple of decent teams to root for as you ‘B’ teams in the 49er’s and the Giants.

The other issue is the content.  Both the streaming on Netflix and the content available for free on Amazon Prime is, frankly, 97% crap.  It just stinks.  The same goes for all of the Internet TV channels on Roku.  They are all crap.  I’m all for choice and diversity, but when it’s all crap, then it’s not choice and it’s not diversity.  It’s just crap.

The interface.  While it looks nice, it’s impossible to find anything.  There’s just too much garbage.  I don’t want to have to go to 7 different services to get the content I want.  I want to go to one.  I also don’t want to wade through piles of garbage shows to find something that’s barely worth watching.

The service.  Ten or fifteen minutes into streaming something, the audio gets all screwed up turning Dora into a Syth Lord.  *Update* Upon further reflection, the distortion sounds more like the demon from the Exorcist I’ve googled it, and every message board talks about the lousy customer service Roku has, and I’m still looking for an answer.

So now I’ve got a Roku currently designated to streaming Dora the Explorer.   And that’s about as useful as I find this thing right now.

What to write when you’ve got nothing to say

This blog, like many others I’m sure, tends to go through long periods of neglect followed by a short flurry of activity until neglect creeps in again.

Of course I don’ t do this on purpose. Keeping up content is tough. It’s hard to find the inspiration, time, and a good topic. But often times, it’s because I’ve already written what I’m working through; I’ve just put it down in my head, and not on paper. And there the idea sits, unfinished, in rough-draft, an idea, thought, or something I’m working through. I’ll spend quite a bit of time working on one. I’ll revise, restart, redact, and reword it over and over in my head, just as if I was typing. This is how my brain works. It’s how I wrote my best man speech for my brother’s wedding. I say wrote, although I never put a pen to a piece of paper. I just went through the speech over and over again for three days as if I was writing a paper in my mind.

Writing for me has always been therapeutic—a way to visualize my thoughts and gain a new perspective. I was had a former roommate give my then current roommate that “The only way Drew ca. Communicate is through writing.”.

I fear that by not putting these ideas down on paper, I’m not getting as much benefit from the reflective process as I should. For one, processing information this way requires a lot of bandwidth. It’s like trying to put the waterflow of a firehouse through a drinking straw. The CPU just gets maxed out. It takes an incredible amount of time and concentration to get thoughts out and process them this way.

Writing though, allows ideas to flow more freely and it’s much easier to extract examine ideas. It’s much easier to read, revise and rework a piece on your computer screen than it is in your head. I’m able to complete ideas in a way that I can’t to do by running through these ideas in my head all day long. It also takes way less time as by having pieces of the idea written down, I don’t need to revisit it from the beginning each time. This is, of course, all pretty basic stuff here, but maybe writing it down will make it set in and get me to post here more often.

So there you go. When you don’t have anything to write, write about writing.

Why they’re not going to leave Facebook

I saw this tweet from @markgr and had to write about it.  The reason being, I don’t believe Google +, Diaspora or any other new social media tool has a chance until the come up with something completely different.   I wish it wasn’t true, but all we have to do is look at recent history to see that it probably is.

All of these new ideas are just Facebook repackaged.  Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google +, and Diaspora when distilled down to their basic structure and interface are all Facebook.  There really isn’t anything different.  Unfortunately, the one thing that they don’t have is the crowd.  And they’re not going to get the crowd, until there’s a crowd there.  There won’t be a crowd there until the product is actually new.

I’ve been on all five of the above.  Here’s how my experience has gone:

1. Get hooked on the buzz that this is finally the revolutionary social network that is going to connect me with my friends without being evil.

2. Get the email saying that I’m part of an early beta testing group.

3. Log on, add my information and a photo.

4. Spend sometime skimming around the “news feed” equivalent.  Upload a photo or two.  Invite some friends.

5. Check in daily to see what’s new and who has joined up since he last time I checked an hour ago.

6. See that no one else is using it.  Well, not no one.  Lot’s of people in HighEd are writing about how this will change HighEd marketing because this will finally take down Zuck.

7.  Begin checking less frequently—still finding that no one I went to college, high school, randomly know is one.

8. Give up and update my Facebook status.

And that’s it.  Until something revolutionary happens, Facebook is it folks.   It’s just like changing banks because of some outrageous fee their charging.  Yeah, it sucks to pay the fee, but all my stuff is there.  My paycheck is automatically deposited there.  My bills come in through the online banking feature.  I’ve got everything set up.  It would be a pain to change.  Plus I might miss a bill or two in the switch over.

I don’t care how frustrated people are with Facebook.  The crowd is there.  My crowd is there.  I’m not moving without them.



Damn Facebook. You’re sketchy.

I needed help with that title, and reached out on Twitter land with this “Facebook is sketchier than__.  Fill in the blank.”  Below a few of the responses I got back.

@nickdenardis: Your mom at a high school party
@juliaalling: the guy in the next office who mumbles to himself. (this I believe is a reference to me)
and the required and always good for a chuckle “@tsand” from @epsteada

The response that was most apropos however came from Eric Bates on Google+ (which I love btw), “Eric Schmidt.”

I asked for help finishing that sentence because I was inspired once again to write about Facebook’s increasing creepiness.   You’ve probably seen a few messages in your news stream that Facebook has begun storing all of the contacts on your mobile device.

That’s my biggest question.  Why would I need my cellphone contacts in Facebook?  If I need to call someone, I would do it from my cellphone.  If I didn’t have their number and I was friends with them, then chances are I can’t remember who that person actually is or how I know them.  It’s probably that random friend of a friend that I met at a party, had a cool conversation with, but don’t particularly care whether I see them again and thus will never need to call them.

And why do I feel violated?
I’m sure it says it somewhere in the lawyer speak, but did I really need to give Facebook access to information on my phone when I agreed to the Terms of Use for their mobile app?

I guess Google does this, but it’s because I’ve purposely clicked a box to allow my Google Contacts to sync with my phone.  Facebook you just did it.   Couldn’t you have just asked?

How much longer will I put up with this?
It seems like with every move Facebook makes, it gets sketchier.  I won’t say I’m ready to nuke my account or anything like that, but I do hope that something new comes along. 

I’m kinda feeling the same way.

More Google+ Love

I was reminded of another reason why I’m on the Google+ bandwagon–the ability to control the content I see.

Facebook controls what I see in my news feed.  I’m sure there’s some algorithm behind it, but it drives me nuts.  My news feed isn’t populated with news from the people who I most want to hear from.  Instead, it’s a bunch of one off’s that I’m not particularly interested in.

Facebook lists may be a solution to this, but frankly, I never took the time to go through my friends and sort them.  I’ve completely forgotten how to do that now, and so it’s a lost cause.

With Google+, I’m able to control  the content I see through Circles.  Annoying people in my stream?  Peace out.  You’re now in an annoying person Circle.

That being said, there still isn’t a lot going on there, so it’s pretty boring.  I find myself checking it multiple times a day without anything changing.  If this continues, it’s really just a matter of time before this goes the way of Buzz and Wave.  That would be too bad because Google+ works.

Circle me in

So far I’ve given a big +1 to Google+. Here are a few things that I really love about it, and I hope it catches on.

1. It’s clean. No real surprise here from the company that limits the words on their homepage to no more than 28 words. Google+ is clean. It looks sharp, and it looks crisp. I’m guessing that since Google has plenty of other areas to generate revenue, it won’t need to clutter the screen with ads either. That’s a total guess.

2. Circles. Where Facebook failed with its groups lists, Google succeeded with Circles. Perhaps it’s because it fits more naturally with the design and doesn’t feel forced, but I like the idea of separating contacts out into Circles. I especially like that people can be in more than one Circle.

3. It’s Google. I use GMail both personally and professionally. I use Google Reader as an RSS feeder. I use GChat all of the time. I use tons of Google products. An all-in-one that I’m sure will someday integrate all of those technologies, yes please.

4. Hangouts. You mean my brother in California and my parents in Illinois can video chat with my son all at the same time on a Saturday morning? Yes please.

5. “Don’t Be Evil” Google’s motto. Now am I wary of relying on one company for everything? Yes. Do I really believe that Google isn’t capable of evil and won’t try to dominate the word and turn us all into GSlaves? Almost 100% yes. Almost. But it’s still better than what I think of Zuck’s motives with Facebook.

So I’m ready. Open the gates and let the people in. I am ready to jump ship. I just need a critical mass of friends whom I’m actually interested in getting updates about to join up as well. Right now, it’s a bit dull, frankly. Until then, I’ll be hanging out in some Circle waiting to be +1’d.

I’m Tired

I’m feeling a bit fatigued at the start of this New Year. No, it’s not the teething five month old. That’s not the kind of fatigue I mean. I’m getting tired of the staleness that I see in the Web 2.0 world, and I’m wondering what’s next.

Thinking all the way back to 2007 when Facebook (as we know it to be) was a mere three years old, Oprah and that idiot Ashton Kutcher weren’t on Twitter, and MySpace was still relevant, it all seemed so new, fresh and exciting. We were all trying to figure out just what these new communication tools could do and how we could apply them to our trade.

But that was a lifetime ago. Now, the Boomers have invaded Facebook, and @BlueFuego is reporting that Facebook FanPage interaction is way down. I’ve got to imagine that’s a symptom of teens and tweens not wanting to hang out in the same social space as their parents. Twitter, well, someone still needs to explain to my why I care about following celebrities and brands that spend more time talking about the love they get from fans and clients then what they’ll do for me.

I’ve unsubsribed to most of the blogs I used to read. Those websites with multiple authors have really just gotten old. The content just isn’t as fresh as it was 2 years ago. They seem to focus no on analytics and number crunching and that’s fine, but something seems to be missing from the conversation – like we’ve all gotten tired of playing and now are just jogging down the first base path.

Where’s the fresh content? Where’s the innovation? Where’s the next big shift? Why are we doing this?

Sadly, I can’t claim it’s coming from me. I’ve completely neglected this blog the last 6 – 8 months. And to quote our president, “That’s my responsibility.” Saying it is one thing, but acting on it is completely different. I’m not great a finishing projects and I often find the last ten percent truly dull and drab. I’d much rather frame a building than do any type of finish carpentry. Perhaps my dis-allusion with the current state of this new media is that it’s no longer new. It’s evolved and become more sophisticated.

One place where I am finding a chance to frame a building is here at Groton School. I’ve only been working for an independent boarding school since August, but my sense is that there is a movement towards more sophisticated marketing strategies. Certainly there are schools out there like Andover and Exeter with $1 billion plus endowments that run a pretty sophisticated show, but for the most part, these independent schools seem a few years behind higher ed. This makes sense in a lot of ways because studies showed that higher ed was quick to adapt those new social media (there I said it) tools into there marketing campaigns. At SMC, we had been blogging since ’03 for example. Not the case here.

The difference between these schools and higher ed is these schools are doing it with much smaller shops, and they’re doing it with unique restrictions (i.e. a campus full of minors). That is what’s getting me going and lighting a fire under me.

I think this stuff still works. You just have to keep your eyes on what’s important, and guess what, it’s not about you. It’s about me.

It’s always been about me and what you can do for me. As a skier, I’ve really been impressed how ski areas have been using social media. Check out @jaypeakresort and Okemo on Facebook. They’re using those two tools to offer their followers deals. One recent deal from @jaypeakresort included room, meals, daycare and lift ticket for $140ish. A great deal and a great use of marketing. Yeah they talk about their snowfall and their new buildings but in a way that entices the follower to want to take advantage of their deals. I have no idea if these deals are exclusive to Twitter followers but they sure make it seem like it and that makes me, as a follower, feel special. And I think that’s what has me fatigued. All they talk has moved from the emotion that these powerful networking tools can spark in people, to raw numbers and data and how a seller (because we’re all selling something) can get his message out to the potential user.

I’m not a data guy. I have tried to be but I just hate it. I’m emotional and irrational and I love to create positive emotional experiences for people. To do so I have to constantly realign my perspective so that it’s not focused on what I want, or what I want audience to want, but rather it’s about creating that space for the audience to interact and create and share emotional experiences together. (I have shamelessly ripped that off of Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae p110)(rest assured I just threw up a little in my mouth after paraphrasing him.)

Wow. That was a massive brain dump and at times raging venting exercise. Whew! Great way to kick off the New year with that off my chest. I know I’m going in a couple of different directions with this post, but this really was more of an exercise for me. Remember it’s always about me.