Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just Remembered my Right Hand

Though I've been involved in politics and community action for many years, I haven't been at a real protest since I was in college. At the last protest I participated, in the late eighties, I came to the conclusion that protests have two possible outcomes: (1) nothing or (2) people get beat up. I haven't seen much to convince me otherwise in the last 20 years.

I didn't think twice about attending last night's rally (Hebrew), after one of the congregants at my synagogue was arrested at the Western Wall. When my daughter heard there was a protest, she also immediately exclaimed "We should go to that!"

Of course, that was after several failed attempts to explain to her why Nofrat had been arrested. "Wait. I don't understand. What did she do wrong?" asked Maya. As far as my kids are concerned, there is nothing exceptional or even mildly interesting about a woman reading a Torah scroll or wearing a prayer shawl.

At shul this Saturday, one of the congregants pointed out to me that this was precisely the problem. "We are raising a generation that doesn't think there is anything wrong with that. That's precisely what scares the ultra-orthodox." Certainly, that's at least part of the truth. Certainly, a number of non-orthodox movements are growing in Israel, and that does appear as a threat to the ultra-orthodox, and some of the orthodox movements.

What do I mean by "threat". I mean money. Big Money. Marriage, divorce, burials, jobs in the municipalities and government, tax breaks, government-allocated lands, grants and scholarships for education, and the Western Wall (among other tourist attractions). This is big money.

I don't want to go too much into my religious beliefs, but it is beyond offensive that in Israel, Jews do not have freedom of religion. Our congregation has a couple of dozen rabbis who can not perform a marriage or memorial ceremony in this country. Being persecuted for religion in our own country is too horrific for me to even think about, so I didn't think, and just took my kids up to Jerusalem, despite all I know about protests, and went to one.

It was a great protest, too. It was early enough in the evening for the kids to hang out and participate. There were a couple of thousand people, which felt like (and was) a victory. Our friends from the congregation came, so the kids felt like it was fun, and I felt it was secure. Nobody got beat up, not by the police and not by opposition protesters.

At the end of the day, I don't know how much came of it. At the very least, it gave my kids the feeling that we were doing something for what we believe in. And we got t-shirts. I like to think about how many more lawyers the Conservative and Reform movement have than the ultra-orthodox movement. I like to think that will make some difference.

The real difference will be made on the ground, though. When people get together and say they just won't stand for religious oppression of Jews by Jews in the Jewish land, it will stop. When we demand that the religious sites and institutions serve us all equally, it will happen. This is just a start, but it's a good start, a strong start, and a start that will lead to a future of religious tolerance for all of us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get on Board: The Greatest Marketing Challenge

Last February, I got a mail in my inbox from Internet marketer/guru Eben Pagan (yeah, it's a weird link, but that's Eben), which said, "The "hardest" marketing challenge in the world". Now, Eben is an internet marketing guru and I've never met him, but he definitely sends me more e-mail than any of my friends. So I don't read them all. But this one I couldn't resist. This is the interview I heard (click it if you are still interested after reading the rest).

And so it started that I got involved in volunteering for P:5Y, one of the most amazing organizations I've ever joined. (Yeah, I know this is not the hottest web site, I'll get to that later.) It's amazing because the volunteers, mostly, are people who heard about it the same way I did, which means they are marketeers and business people. Even the ones who are historically peace activists (and there are very few) have their own internet businesses on the side. In other words, unlike other volunteer organizations I've been part of, this one takes on challenges like a business, like there's a deadline.

The founders asked themselves, what if we treated Peace like a business? What if we defined the problem, put together strategy and tactics, found out why the competitors didn't succeed, and set a deadline. They wrote plan. They published a book. Although the subtitle is Give Peace a Deadline, What Ordinary People can do to Cause World Peace in 5 Years, I have not met one ordinary person since joining the organization.

Now, we've had a lot of stops and starts, just like any new organization, and the web site doesn't look so great. The teams are functioning without all the tools we said we'd have running a few months ago, etc. But the strangest thing is happening.

About 2 weeks ago I realized that when they wrote the book, they said that in the first year we would go from 17 armed conflicts to 14 armed conflicts world wide. We are 9 months in. There are 15 conflicts as of this writing. I don't have a great explanation for that, but it's kind of cool.

I'm asking for your help. Let me tell you what you get, or at least what I got, and then I'll tell you how to join. The first thing you get is that you really are working on the world's greatest marketing challenge and the world's most urgent problem. That should be obvious, so if that sounds fun for you, wait, there's more! You get:
  • Professional value in idea exchange and networking: you'll be on teams with high-level professionals
  • A reason to get up every morning: you'll regularly have inspiring and high-level conversations with intelligent and thoughtful people, not pie-in-the sky dreamers
  • Fun and responsibility together: you'll be held accountable for what you say you'll do on these teams and you'll have access to mutual advice and coaching with your buddies on the teams
  • Friends: I've met some incredible people I know will be in my life for many years
OK, now join. Just drop me a line at, and I'll tell you what teams are forming and put you on one with other really cool people. The obvious urgent needs are a web site team (HELP! URGENT!) and a team to end 1 more conflict by February 15 2010 (also HELP! URGENT!) We have a Global Peace Treaty team with attorneys on it, and a Peace Commerce team with businesspeople on it -- something for everyone.

If you are skeptical, that's OK, join anyway. One thing I learned from roller-blading is that if you get a critical mass of people, and that's only about 40 people, and you do something kind of crazy, like skate through a downtown metropolis, the thing you are doing doesn't seem crazy.

I guarantee you that you won't feel like you wasted time on this project, and I guarantee that you won't feel crazy after the first 2 weeks. If you are, hey, quit.

So write me, at, and retweet or FB this blog so other people can do the same. Get on Board.

Note, I'm a volunteer and I don't answer P:5Y mail when I'm at work, so it might take a few days for me to get back to you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

That Syching Feeling

I'm sitting next to a dear friend of mine at a dinner event, and he says "You were late, so I called you, but you didn't answer."

"Do you have my new number?" I ask.

He shoots me a dirty look.

"Wait, I'll call you and you'll get it on your screen." I open the address book on the phone, only to find that his number isn't there. "Um, could you call me?"

He shoots me an even dirtier look. "This is looking really bad for you," he says.

Later in the week when my kids wanted to call my brother-in-law to wish him a happy birthday, I found out I didn't have my sister's phone number either.

I got a new job about a month ago, which meant I changed computers, cell phones, and Outlook/mail servers. (Fortunately, my personal e-mail never changes, so 90% of my contacts can always find me by e-mail and the other 10% know how to use Google.)

I exported my my Outlook contacts, Gmail contacts, etc. I synched up my phone and my GoogleCalendar. Miraculously, 2 weeks into the job, Plaxo offered me a free trial of Premium membership, so I was all set up for synchronization and duplicate elimination. This was going to be easy.

And it was, it was really easy. There were only two problems:
  1. The technology didn't work properly.
  2. For a change of phone number, you need a "push" technology, not a "pull".
Let me first say a thing about the technology that didn't work. I have nothing against Plaxo, but let me just state a general rule to any company. If you are planning to charge for a "premium" service, the service should actually work. Fortunately I got 30 days free, but seeing as it not only didn't work properly, but also caused damage, free turned out pretty expensive for me. Oh, and I can't cancel the trial except by calling them by phone during California business hours, which I most certainly will, and it will cost them more money than just letting me do it by Internet. I guess they figure they'll get more money from people who can't bother to call than it will cost them to answer the phones for people who do call. I don't have much to say about ethics on this one, but it's still a poor business practice to do something with the potential to piss people off. They might blog about it.

Back to my story.

I synched Plaxo with my Outlook, and then I used Plaxo's functionality for removing duplicates. (Actually, this was after trying Outlook's functionality for removing duplicates, which was really, really lame.) At first, I started using the manual functionality, but by the time I was up to 23 of 1156 duplicates, I thought it was impractical, and trusted the Plaxo functionality. Needless to say, I lost plenty of data this way. I don't know whether it was the sync or the dupe, but one way or another, information disappeared. (Yes, I have backups, if I want to return to the universe of 1156 duplicates.)

BTW, I am skipping a discussion of the miseries of incompatible file imports, etc., with Outlook because I assume you all know that it's par for the course. Apparently, if you are technical enough to know there is an "import/export" function in your mail app, you are technical enough not to be upset with a bit of fiddling with csv, pst and xls files. I'm willing to put up with a lot of scrap as long as in the end, my contacts are synched.

You'd think that contact synch would be easy to figure out. For any company doing contact sync, let me tell you a secret. This is a big secret, so you are going to owe me for this.

People's name are not unique identifiers. People's e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers are unique identifiers.

Given this, it should be friggin easy to do a contact merge. Really. Yes, some people have more than 1 e-mail address. Yes, often I have the cell phone number stored in my cell phone and the e-mail address stored in my gmail account, and sometimes there is no overlap, so let me tell you another secret. Again, this is a big secret, so you are going to owe me for this one too.

If you are a social networking site, you don't need to ask me the correct e-mail address and mobile phone number, because you are probably more accurate than my address book. (Yes, I know there are privacy issues, but if I am linked/connected/friended with them, it's legit for you to just update the proper name. That's why I joined Plaxo and connected with people there in the first place.)

So, once you know these two big secrets, a computer program, especially a social networking site computer program, should be much smarter than I am when it comes to duplicate contact resolution. From the 23 contacts I did manually, I can confirm that the program behind Plaxo is worse than my brain is at duplicate contact resolution. Listen, Plaxo, you have great ideas of what we want from Plaxo. Close to perfect ideas, I would say. The execution falls way short.

Ok, that's my sinking feeling about synching. I want to have a quick discussion of the largest part of the puzzle that is missing, which is push technology to send out important new information.

Now, I have a lot of announcement technologies to publish my new phone number. I'm not a very secretive person. After all, my job is to be the company spokesperson, which means my cell phone is published on company press releases. Still, I'm not actually going to tweet it. I did update LinkedIn, Plaxo and FB profiles, and announce on FB and twitter that I have changed phone numbers, so if you are my contact, you can find it.

Still, these are basically pull technologies. Either you noticed or you didn't. More than half of my RL contacts are not connected to me through any online social network.

Ok, so next, I started sending out e-mails to say I'd changed my information. Now that you know how many duplicate contacts I have, you can imagine how many actual contacts I have. Also, Gmail hasn't saved all of them as friends. Some of the people I write to most are not in my address book there. (AAAAAH, how did this happen? What kind of feature is this?) I didn't know this when I started, either. And, of course, there are limits on how many e-mails you can send in bulk, both in terms of spam blocking, and in terms of patience in clicking boxes. I guess you could just do "all", but in most people's cases, that doesn't make real sense. Not all of my buddies from every group list I belong to need to get this notification.

Over the course of a few days, I got up to R. So if your name starts with R-Z, or you are listed in my address book in Hebrew, and you didn't get an update yet, sorry. Maybe I'll get to it. Maybe not. And then I have to go back and go through the contacts that Gmail didn't add to my address book and send to those ones. And then there are the people who aren't on my e-mail list, like the parents of all my kids' friends. I could SMS them, but again, with the number of people I know, that's both expensive and time-consuming. Mostly time-consuming, to tell the truth. I'd be willing to pay twenty bucks for it.

Technologically, it's not problematic to create this functionality. Spammers use it all the time. Normal people, however, can't. It would even be easy to provide this as a one-time service when you get a new phone number. I'd be willing to pay for that. Sounds like it is time to call my cell phone provider and ask them if they can do that for me. I'll let you know how that goes next week.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cybermom and the Eyes on the Back of the Head

1 Farmville Gift request.
"Who could be sending me a gift request at 3 in the afternoon?" (Nevermind that I'm on FB at work.)
Tevel Rachmany has sent you a violet hay bale.
(Opening up text chat in FB) "You are supposed to be doing homework, not playing Farmville!"
Tevel Rachmany is offline.
"That was too easy. I wonder when they'll figure out they can block me."

Or when they'll start reading my blog. For now, they think it's reasonable that I have their passwords, because I always have had them, and of course, just in case they want me to harvest their crops for them after I've sent them up to bed. They won't give one another the passwords, though, because they might spend Farm dollars. Or because each one has a certain amount of time on their personal login on the computer. They are clear that I can parentally block out Farmville, too (I {heart} Mac).

The kids' friending habits are interesting. They are clear that they shouldn't friend strangers, so when my high school friends wanted to friend them for Farmville purposes, they turned down the invitation until I gave explicit permission. (Yay!) Tevel doesn't accept friendship requests from the girls in his class. "They aren't my friends," he says. Maya is a little older, so she friends boys in her grade.

I don't friend the kids' friends, but as I am a Farmville champ, quite a number of them friend me, and I (obviously) accept those requests. Nothing like knowing what your pre-adolescent kids' class is doing. I also make sure that Farmville gifts go to the kids first (sorry adult FV neighbors.)

Tevel has a special name (it means "Universe"), so occasionally someone else named Tevel will friend him because of the common name. If the person looks normal, I allow him to friend them and I let them know he is a kid so they shouldn't send anything inappropriate. Mostly they are teenagers themselves. And some Tevels play Farmville, yay! Maya never gets other Mayas friending her for the name, since it's so common.

For now, I have the privilege of seeing what they do online and who their friends are. For them, it's just a fact of life that Mom knows what you are doing online. It's just a fact of life that you can IM mom at any time of the day or night. I think they know that other people's moms aren't as wired, but maybe they don't. Maybe it's all part of the knowledge that your mom has eyes on the back of her head.

As a parent, it means I have information other parents don't, and I don't hesitate to share anything that seems useful. The kids' crushes are probably none of my business, but some of their online and texting habits have had me calling other parents. Interesting discussions have ensued, about whether it is OK for them to play poker if it's just with virtual chips and not real money. Unfortunately, I'm starting to feel I need to sign up for Zynga Poker to find out. Hopefully it's not as addictive as Farmville.