Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

The Big Green Pen sincerely hopes each and every familie feels welcomed!

(As a proud Florida State University graduate, I bleed garnet and gold,
but this makes me see red!)

The rest of the story ..... as of 7/31/10.
I had a cordial exchange with Guy Moore, who owns Garnet and Gold (and who is a former English major)!  He was a great sport about having this little "familys" issue front and center on my Wordless Wednesday.  At Florida State, we may not always get it right the first time, but we do know how to fix our mistakes.  Here's to you, Garnet and Gold:


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread (Actually ..... the Other "SO")

On June 18, 2010, I shared a link to this article on Facebook, along with my comment:
Sit through a few IT-related procurements and you'll hear many iterations of "so" as the intro to a sentence.
Like author Jane Jeong Trenka, I am constantly engaged in what she calls "the subversive act of noticing things."  It's not really subversive, I suppose, but that phrase really stands out to me.  "Noticing things" that are occurring somewhat under the surface of routine daily discourse provides a feast of amusements to toss around mentally.

That is what gets me to so.

Several years ago, I was part of an interview team for a Third Party Administrator (TPA) for Healthy Kids.  A portion of each presentation was fairly technical, since the TPA has responsibility for designing and maintaining the computer system that tracks enrollment, billing, eligibility, and other functions of our program.  I started noticing the use of "so" as the beginning of a sentence.  Sometimes it sort of made sense, such as:

Q: How will you handle the fact that our program's premiums are based on household size and gross monthly income?
A: So, you have to factor in the household size and gross monthly income.

Other times, not so much:

Q: How was your flight?
A: So, we encountered turbulence on the flight, and otherwise it was good.


There have been other procurements over the years, and in addition to those procurements, I have noticed this usage of "so" as the first word of a sentence in other arenas as well.

Why does it matter, and when does it matter?

My friend Barbara logically asked, "Why do do you have to stop using it? It seems a perfectly good word..."

She is right.  I know several people who use it as a normal part of their speech.  These are people I care deeply about, who could probably choose several things about my word choices and speech patterns to nitpick about. 

It bothers me when it is delivered by a professional individual, who is representing a purportedly savvy, national or international corporation, who relies on it as a crutch.  It doesn't help them. 

At a recent set of marathon meetings where another set of potential vendors were presenting to us, I counted the "so's" in one hour coming out of the lead presenter, who was extremely professional and well -spoken in every other way (remember, I don't have the Altoids to keep me occupied anymore!):

Among the individual's team, there were 13 additional "so's" in the hour.  That's  a lot of
"so" ing!

Most of the theories around the migration of "so" from mid sentence to its new role as the introductory word have to do with computer programmers in Silicon Valley in the late 90's.  In fact, author Michael Lewis writes that Microsoft employees "have long argued that the 'so' boom began with them."

I don't know -- what I do know is that the use of "so" as an intro word was sort of an amusement when it was coming from an IT person trying to explain why GUI is not something that needs to be cleaned up but will help me understand information more easily.  Now that it has made the leap to other business situations, however, it detracts from the information the speaker is trying to convey.

If you are interested in other articles and blogs about the phenomenon, here are some links:

benjaminm's blog, in which the author muses, "You can tell that John and I aren't from Microsoft since we don't use 'so' enough when starting our sentences."

Blog du Tristank


The Celestial Monochord, which has a cute picture of Ira Flatow interviewing penguins (don't think they're in on the "so" phenom), but the article discusses the ubiquitous presence of "so" at the beginning of a whole lot of sentences on NPR interviews.

Those are my thoughts on the topic......hope you consider them more than "so so."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wordless Wednesday (The Thrill of the Hill)

The All American Soap Box Derby is this week in Akron, Ohio!
A celebration of our local Soap Box Derby Racers and Supporters.

Building (2008):

Ready for "The Thrill of the Hill" (2010):

photo credit Frank Feliciano

RACING (2010)

photo credit Frank Feliciano

The pull of gravity + the energy of a child = the fun of Soap Box Derby!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

No Visible Means of Support

Yesterday, the family and I returned from St. George Island.  Our extended family vacations there every year.  Last year and this year, we were in a house called A Blue Heron (which is not blue):

Wayne and Wayne left on Saturday for the entire Saturday-to-Saturday stay.  Tenley and I arrived on Wednesday because I had work obligations and she had dance class.  It took me from 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday until around 3 p.m. on Thursday to wind down enough to feel vacation-y.  This sight helped:

One of the biggest stories of the week has to do with my adorable 15-month-old niece, Peyton, who was apparently very content each day floating around the pool in her Princess float (Peyton, sadly, went back to Charleston before Tenley and I made it to St. George).  So content that everyone had come to assume that, except for occasions when she would list to one side or another, she was "good to go."  That worked out fine until the strap broke between her legs.  Fortunately, the strap malfunction occurred when she was right by her dad; she was silent as she began to slip below the water.  This story reminded me of Tenley's 6th birthday party, which was held at Mary's pool in Thomasville.  Because I was so worried about liability and a private pool, I had hired a lifeguard to keep watch on everyone.  After the party, the lifeguard was released to get dressed.  When I returned to the pool area, I saw my 3 year old son being fished out of the pool by his father!  He had been in a floatie, and had tried to reach for a flower/sponge thing that had been one of the favors.  He fell out of the float and started sinking while his dad and his aunt were talking a foot away.  Hm.  So ironic since I had hired a lifeguard!  All's well that ends well in both stories, but Peyton's experience did make me think about the "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning" link I have been seeing on many Facebook accounts recently.

The other thing that I would like to celebrate about my few days away is the ability to exercise each day, without a multitude of other things bearing down on me.  When I run before work, I know I have to get home (quickly), get ready, possibly get children going, and get my head into workday mode.  When I run after work, I am usually thinking about how much there still is to do between finishing my run and bed.  When I go to intervals, it is a rush to get there and there are errands to run immediately afterwards.  Vacation afforded me the opportunity for two runs (one HOT and the other in the rain, pre-dawn) and a walk along the beach right at water level, which felt great on my heel.  I listened to some inspirational and funny podcasts, including Speaking of  Faith's podcast about yoga as meditation in action, which resonated with me for several reasons, including its references to learning to be present by accepting the negativity that we so often try to resist and, on a completely different note, Matt's RunDiggerRun episode where he talks about running the Marine Corps 17.75K race (17.75K because the Corps was established in 1775).  I especially chuckled at the signs along the route, such as:  You Are Not Almost There!  Don't we runners feel that way anyhow during a run?  Might as well see it in black and white (or USMC scarlet and gold?). 

One more thing on the exercise topic.  I want to sing the praises of Daily Mile.  Even though I was drug kicking and screaming into one more thing that I have to have a log on and password for, I can't say enough about the motivating effect of knowing that my DM friends are expecting me to post a run, walk, cycle, commute, or .... SOMETHING!  They do a better job with their logo than I do, but here's the DM logo I created on the sands of St. George Island.  Give them a try if you need some additional support. 

I suppose the theme of this blog ended up being support.  Support of those podcasters out there who give us things to think about; support of our fellow runners/athletes who understand that we all need an extra "you can do it" from time to time, and the most important support of all, Princess Support (phew!). 

What kind of support have you recently found especially helpful?  I'd love to hear about it!

In the meantime, I'll "run" into you next week, readers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

We have gotten increasingly accustomed to knowing how long we are going to have to wait for things. 

Call customer service, and you'll know there are four people ahead of you with a wait time of approximately 3 minutes.

Get in line at Space Mountain, and anticipate a wait time of 20 minutes from "this point in line." 

Order "The Girl Who Played with Fire" from amazon.com, and receive several emails predicting when your book will arrive.

That's why I was surprised (and amused) when, upon powering up my office copier Sunday, it told me this:

Our copier is a realist with good grammar (it's really easy to confuse "a while" and "awhile")!

Honesty and good grammar:  two things that are difficult to duplicate.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Light Paperwork Duties as Assigned

I love soft skills.  Soft skills are used by customer service representatives, especially in a phone call setting where neither party can see the other, to add quality to a call.  Voice tone is an example.  All of us have heard a contact center representative with awful voice tone -- maybe they sound like they'd rather be home watching "The Hills" (or maybe they sound like they are watching "The Hills") while trying to simultaneously serve you.  Soft skills are an art.  If your contact center is trying to sell something, the rep who gives me accurate information with nice soft skills is more likely to get my money than the rep who gives me accurate information without.  And the rep who gives me inaccurate information may cost their employer the human resource time involved in me calling another rep to make sure the information I heard the first time was right.

But tonight's blog isn't about a phone call.  It is about this:

"This" is the machine printing out my receipt at Subway yesterday.  I am glad Subway gave me a receipt for my purchase.  I am glad my "Sandwich Artist" used great soft skills to take my order.  What I am not so glad about is that, although she used great soft skills, she provided the following instruction to me as the receipt was printing out:

"When the first receipt prints out, you can just take it."

Now, it may seem trite to quibble about being told to rip off my own receipt.  She appeared to be the only Sandwich Artist on duty and a line was forming.  Before I complete my mini soapbox rant, here's the Sandwich Artist position summary:

Tasks and Responsibilities:

1. Prepares food neatly, accurately, and in a timely way.
2. Demonstrates a complete understanding of menu items and explains it to guests accurately. Exhibits a   cheerful and helpful manner when dealing with guests.
3. Checks products in sandwich unit area and restocks items to ensure a sufficient supply throughout the shift.
4. Cleans as directed.
5. Greets guests and prepares their orders, uses Point of Sale system/cash register to record the order and computes the amount of the bill, collects payment from guests and makes change.
6. Understands and adheres to all quality standards, formulas and procedures as outlined in the Operations Manual.
7. Accounts for all forms of money, bread, etc. during the shift
8. Understands and adheres to proper food handling, safety and sanitization standards while preparing food, serving food, and clean up.
9. Maintains professional appearance and grooming standards as outlined in the Operations Manual.
10. Performs light paperwork duties as assigned.

Ostensibly, her goal was to comply with the "timely way" required in task #1, and that took precedence over the "light paperwork" in task #10.  (And task #5 does not specifically say that the Sandwich Artist should provide a receipt for a Point of Sale system transaction, just that it should be used to record the order and compute the amount of the bill.) However, in the time it took her to instruct me to tear off my own receipt, she could have done it herself. 

Of course, if she had done it herself, or even if she had not mentioned the receipt, I probably wouldn't be writing about Subway tonight.  In a sort of "inside out" customer service way, she should get kudos for talking me through the process and ensuring I had documentation of my visit.

But still..........if I am spending money at your business, you should complete the transaction, not me.  In almost 16 years of working at Healthy Kids, I have found myself frustrated when I have had to ask families to do some of the follow up work for problems not of their own making (I am sure they felt the same way).  I know I have provided customer service that did not meet my own exacting standards. 

Rebecca Morgan's blog cites examples of customer service delight, including the fact that Burger Kings in Brazil clandestinely take customers' pictures and then produce those pictures as a surprise on the customers' Whopper wrappers!

I wasn't asking for my picture on my Subway receipt, just for my Sandwich Artist to do her own "light paperwork duties as assigned."

I'll "run" into you next week, readers! 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

July 5, 2010 - The Freedom Springs Kids Triathlon





To modify a Danskin quote about triathlon: 

"The child who starts the race is not the same child who finishes the race."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sleep in Peace, Benjamin

This holiday weekend, I am awash in a sea of red, white and blue images, along with all kinds of patriotic verbiage. 

When I arrived at Greensboro, FL, yesterday morning to run the Firecracker 5000 Race, I was greeted by crosses lining the streets memorializing citizens lost in the line of duty.

This morning, Facebook bloomed with quotes celebrating freedom, and AOL offered a red, white, and blue "theme of the day."  One of my favorite Facebook statuses was Jess's, which featured a lyric from the Toby Keith song "American Soldier": 

 "I'm out here on the front lines, so sleep in peace tonight."

Tomorrow, Wayne Kevin will compete in the "Freedom Springs Kids Triathlon."  Here's a picture from last year:

I loved the "Americana" feel of my morning in Greensboro yesterday.  I loved the thoughts and sentiments shared among all of us in the Facebook community today.  I loved the family get-together in Thomasville and the minor yet fun backyard fireworks ceremony we shared.  I love the anticipation of sharing another gorgeous North Florida morning with my son tomorrow enjoying the kids' triathlon and closing out Independence Day weekend.

Most of all, though, the one moment that moved me most this weekend happened this morning.  I had just turned on CNN, and the reporter was interviewing some soldiers in Afghanistan (at Bagram Air Force Base).  Had the soldiers not all been in fatigues, and the video feed not been so erratic, the scene could have easily been mistaken for some coworkers having a care-free get-together on American soil and daring each other to soak their boss in the dunk tank.  When the reporter gave a few soldiers the opportunity to say something to the folks back home, a female soldier sent all her love and wishes to "my five year old son Benjamin, in Wisconsin." 

I'll just say it plain and simple; I would find it almost unbearable to be a world away from my child, for months on end.  Agree or disagree with the politics of it all, my heart breaks for this mother and child who are separated.  That mom/soldier has my empathy and gratitude. 

Sleep in peace tonight, Benjamin.