Is safe really better than sorry?

I first mentioned this tweet from @codinghorror in my review of StrangeLoop 2010.

It has stuck with me through the years, and always seems to pop up when it’s needed. Not too long ago (wow – the better part of a year), I tweeted my own variation on this, exploring a bit the “is such crap” part of Jeff’s tweet.

Is safe better than sorry?

It all depends on the context. How you define “safe” and “sorry”, the time scale in which you’re working. What you are willing to give up for what you want to achieve. What you are willing to tolerate. What you want to have written across your tombstone, or in the history books, when your time on this earth inevitably ends.

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Social media in real life – fun and games with SMCSTL and Filament

Last night I attended the Social Media Club – St. Louis (@smcstl) happy hour in celebration of Social Media Day. The event was held at Filament, an incredible new meeting and conference space in downtown St. Louis from my friend Matt Homann and his partners. The team went all out to create a fun evening while showcasing the talent and approach of the Filament team and their process.

The main gathering space was where most of the conversation happened, and good conversation it was. Putting a bit of twist on the typical SMCSTL member engagement on social media during an event, where people are encouraged – expected, even – to be engaged with their gadgets and online networks, the side rooms were each converted into an “offline” version of a social media tool.

In the LinkedIn room, you were asked to post your resume in haiku-ish fashion; three lines of 5, 7, and 5 words. (You can see mine at Resume in haiku(ish).)  The Instagram room had a wall where you could post your hand-drawn selfie, such as this one by Jessica. And, of course, the Facebook room had a wall where you could post and share.

If you live in St. Louis and are at all interested or involved in social media, you really should check out the Social Media Club – St. Louis Chapter.

And if you live anywhere and are looking for an incredible place to hold your next meeting, conference, retreat, off-site, whatever, definitely check out Filament. Because if you absolutely need to have that meeting, you might as well do it right.

All this machinery making modern music

To make music these days, musicians need to know just a bit more than how to play their instrument. A guitar player, for example, needs to be able to play the guitar (a given), but also must have an understanding of how the guitar is built, what accessories provide what features, how to mic the amps. Likewise a drummer, bass player, or other band member. Then comes the process of recording music to produce a song and, hopefully, all the work that goes into putting on a live performance. There are a seemingly endless supply of options available to these musicians that must be overwhelming at times.

Kind of like the seemingly endless onslaught of new collaboration tools and ways to communicate with others.

A little over 5 years ago, I wrote the following:

I’ve been messing around with blogs (with varying success) for over 5 years now, have set up and contributed to my fair share of other online sources like wikis and as a commenter to other blogs. But I’ve only recently really understood the value and, yes, appeal of text messaging and the ability to send photos and videos from anywhere on my phone. And, though I’ve recently signed up and started experimenting with Facebook, I’m still not quite sure exactly what to do with it. And don’t get me started with things like Twitter – as much as friends and others praise it, I just don’t get it.

Of course, it has only gotten worse (better?) since then.

List of feed options for the Lifestream plugin
All this, plus a way to add any that aren’t already included

I have spent the better part of the past year or so exploring and trying out new tools, seeing where they add value or don’t. I still don’t use Facebook much, but have found my groove with Twitter. I see the value and potential of Google+ but just can’t quite get into it. On the other hand, I have come to love and rely on Jive in our “behind the firewall” social/business network. I’ve signed up for many of the niche services that have come out: I really like InstagramUntappd is a cool idea, and I don’t get Pinterest (at all). A quick look at the feed selection list for the Lifestream plugin for WordPress gives an idea of what’s out there. I have no idea what most of them are, and this isn’t even all of them! (Lifestream provides a way for you to add “generic” feeds for all those that they’ve missed.)

Speaking of WordPress… Although I haven’t been blogging publicly for a while (16 months or so, yikes!), spending a lot of time writing and making things happen behind the firewall, I have kept up with the evolution of WordPress and the great tools available in the system, not to mention the evolution of its positioning in the market from “just another … blog” to “just another … site”. I’ve read a couple of good WordPress books through my Safari Books Online subscription, and played around a bit under the hood.

Wordcamp St. Louis 2012

And in a couple of weeks I’m attending WordCamp St. Louis 2012 to learn and share even more.

I could say that all this goodness was part of why it has taken me so long to actually get back up and running. (I told @tomcatalini back in April that I was “very close” to a return to blogging, not sure 4 months counts as “very close”.) And though it sounds like an excuse it is, at least partly, true. Part of my absence has been directly related to my trying to figure out what direction I wanted this blog to take, to build on my previous blogs or to try something new. But part has been trying to understand what is possible with regards to how I do it.

A perfect example of this interplay was my discovery of different post formats, along with the Showcase page template in the Twenty Eleven theme, and how I could use it to capture and present both my own extended thoughts on things (an ounce of perception) and a log of my more random thoughts and observations (a pound of obscure).

I don’t need to worry about all those sites and services in the list above that I don’t know about, or know how to use, nor do I need to worry about all the bells and whistles in WordPress. Perhaps they will be of value to me some day, and if so I expect that I will find them if and when I need them. What I care about is what I can do with them. 

Like the musicians I mentioned earlier, my purpose is not to “play an instrument” or to set up a bunch of gear. My purpose is to make music, and all this machinery is just a way to do that.

Now, let’s see what kind of music I can make….

Explaining Twitter

There are many ways to use Twitter, and at least as many ways to (try to) explain Twitter to people who haven’t yet given it a try. The one I’m most often faced with is from an “average Joe / Jane” that isn’t interested in knowing what someone is having for lunch or that they are changing a really nasty diaper. This is what I’ve come up with for them:

Twitter is a way to meet people. That’s it. What you do with it beyond that is entirely up to you.

Of course, this simple answer rarely convinces anyone, so I continue with something like this.

Think about the last time you went to a party, or out to a club. Chances are you went with a friend, or a group of friends, and didn’t know everyone there. But by the end of the night, you knew more people than before and maybe even made a connection on a personal or professional level with someone. Twitter is exactly the same, only different.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will get to see the conversations I’m involved in, and you can join in whenever you want. If you decide that the other person in the conversation is interesting enough to talk to without me around, you can follow them. You will then see who they talk to and what they talk about, and I guarantee that you will find someone that shares your deep interest in something.

The more conversations you get involved in, and the more you follow, the more you will see the different ways that you can use Twitter for whatever you want to use it for.

This is pretty much how my own use of Twitter has evolved. There are a gazillion ways to use it, and there are some uses that hold no interest for me. (I also don’t care to hear about that nasty diaper on Twitter – that’s what Facebook is for.) But I’ve found ways to use it that work for me, so can you.

You just have to start.

Enjoying the scenery

Occasionally I’m asked what I think about being the parent of an autistic son. Over the years (about 16 now) I’ve had the chance to give it some thought, and I have to say that although my opinions on quite a few things related to autism have evolved – and some have outright changed –  there is one thing that I’ve always believed:

Parenting an autistic child is, first and foremost, nothing more – and nothing less – than parenting a child. Yes it is different, and sometimes (OK, much of the time) more difficult than being the parent of a “normal” child, but that doesn’t change the fundamental nature of being a parent.

Parenting is hard. We try and try and try to get our kids to do something, understand something, say something. They go for a long time, apparently ignoring (avoiding?) all of our best attempts. Then, all of a sudden, when we aren’t really looking (or when we’ve kind of given up), they do it, understand it, say it.

At those moments we feel good, not just for our kids and their accomplishments but for ourselves. Sometimes it is hard to put in the long hours, day after day, never quite knowing if it will pay off or not. This is especially true for the parents of autistic kids. But what can you do?

The following quote from George Leonard’s The Way of Aikido applies as much to parenting as it does to any other endeavor to which we apply ourselves.

What we call “mastery” can be defined as that mysterious process through which what is at first difficult or even impossible becomes easy and pleasurable through diligent, patient, long-term practice. Most learning occurs while we are on the plateau, when it seems we are making no progress at all. The spurt upward towards mastery merely marks the moment when the results of your training “clicks in.”

To learn anything significant…you must be willing to spend most of your time on the plateau. [T]o join the on the path of mastery, it’s best to love the plateau, to take delight in regular practice not just for the extrinsic rewards it brings, but for its own sake.

Another way of looking at it comes from a saying I heard a while back:

A truly happy person enjoys the scenery on a detour.

How’s the scenery where you’re at?

This modified version of something I originally wrote in February 2006 was inspired by a tweet today from John E. Smith, aka @StratLearner

Just because that’s the way it is, doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be

In a tweet earlier today, @Think_Better makes the following suggestion:

Next time someone says, “That’s just the way it is,” try asking, “What would be an alternative?”

It is all too easy to get stuck in the rut of doing things the way they’ve always been done just because that is the way it has always been done.  This one little question can make all the difference, if you just take the time to ask – and answer – it. Just think of the possibilities.

This brought to mind something I wrote back in Aug 08 (on my now shut down 29 Marbles blog) that I thought would be appropriate to repost here.

– – — — —– ——– ————-

That’s just the way it is (but don’t you believe them)

Frequent readers of this blog know that in my attempt to understand autism better, I have a tendency to see connections in things that aren’t always directly related to autism.  A lot of times this will come in the form of a song, a TV show, or a main- or sub-theme in a movie (like the X-Men trilogy).

My post yesterday brought to mind Bruce Hornsby’s (excellent) song, The Way It Is (from the album of the same name).

They say, “Hey little boy you can’t go
Where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do”
Said, “Hey old man
How can you stand to think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules”
He said, son

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

“Don’t you believe them.”  Don’t listen when someone tells you that you can’t change things, that this is how it was meant to be.  Nothing is “meant to be”, that is the wonder of being human, that we determine what is for ourselves.

Well they passed a law in ‘64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change in another’s mind
When all it sees AT the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is, it is, it is, it is

Note that in the chorus after the last verse, Hornsby never says “don’t you believe them”.  I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it is definitely true.  You can make a law, you can tell people what they have to do, but you can’t tell them how to think about others.  That takes education, persistence, and persuasion.

And that, I believe, is the challenge we all face in gaining more understanding and acceptance for autistics, indeed for all people who are different.

————- ——– —– — — – –

When was the last time you asked yourself, or someone else, “Why is it this way? Is there another way that is better?” When is the next time you’ll ask?

10 days of Twitter

After 10 days on Twitter I have 31 followers, am following 19, and  have posted 74 updates.  As one of his 100 conversations, Tony Karrer is interested to know how I use twitter for personal learning.  I’m not sure I’m to the point where I’m doing any real learning through twitter yet, but here are some preliminary thoughts on my brief experience with twitter so far.

Most of the people I am following are people I already know and had only occasional contact with.  By using twitter, I am able to keep in “contact” with them even if I don’t respond to every update they make.  Just knowing what is going on with them is often enough.  I expect that this goes both ways, as I will get almost instant responses from these folks to some of my tweets (there, I said it) and nothing from others.  It is especially nice to be able to link my twitter updates to my Facebook status; I hardly ever updated my Facebook status because I’m not in Facebook very often.

I was a bit less successful in using twitter as a way to engage in an ongoing conversation, specifically Autism Twitter Day.  A bit ironic considering that event is what prompted me to join twitter in the first place.  I’ve never been one for online chat sessions among a bunch of people I don’t know, and that is essentially what that event was, or what it seemed like to me.  Not quite as synchronous as an actual chat, but then again not as asynchronous as an e-mail listserv (on which I typically lurk, with very little participation).  Perhaps twitter is one of the social media tools that Dave Snowden sees replacing tools like listserves, but not for me.  (Not yet anyway.)

I’ve also been playing around with exactly how to use twitter.  I’ve used the web interface, and have twhirl running as a client, but I know there are many other options and possibilities.  Not sure where that will end up.

Perhaps the best thing about twitter, in my mind anyway, is the 140 character limit.  It forces me to keep things short, sweet and to the point.   (You may have noticed on this blog that I tend to have recurring bouts of what my HS English teacher would likely call diarrhea of the keyboard.)

In his post What is Twitter, Shawn over at Anecdote has a very good description of how I’ve been using twitter in these first few days (not that he wrote the description specifically about my use of twitter):

It’s a mistake to think Twitter is only for reporting the minute detail of one’s life, which by the way is an important activity because it helps up create stronger social bonds. Twitter is also effective for asking questions and getting answers, sharing useful links on the web and getting those frustrations out when things are driving you nuts.

For now I think I’ll just keep on using twitter in this way, and see where it takes me.