Friday, March 26, 2010

NPR Report: Doped-up Dogs

After my brother's childhood dog, Bandit passed away in December of 2004, the lone surviving family dog, Rusty suddenly seemed to turn on us and neglect all housebreaking she'd acquired. Each day, regardless of who arrived home and at what time, they were met with a soiled floor in the nook surrounding Rusty's bedding and food and water bowls. After months of daily moping, loads of laundry and vehement "disagreements", my mom sought the guidance of our vet. Turns out that little Rusty, coping with the loss of her companion and pent up for hours alone each day, was depressed. For two years, Rusty continued to rage war against the laundry room floor in defiance until finally my parents adopted our second dog, Petey.

Today's mid-day Fresh Air piece on NPR featured Michael Shaffer, author of One Nation Under Dog- a book that peeks into the changing dynamics of familial life and how it has affected man's best friend and the development of the lucrative "pet-accessories" industry.

While my parents opted for a second dog, those who can't add another pet to their roster can seek pills or other medical treatments to help the mental ails of their furry friends. Though I completely believe my pets to have full thoughts and feelings, I'm not sure how I feel about getting my dog hooked on uppers. But then again, I do dress both Petey and Rusty in sweaters for walks on brisk autumn days...

Either way, I'll be adding One Nation Under Dog to my reading queue.

Rusty, May of 2009


Recently I received an email that my company was adding YAMMER as a new method of internal communication. Yammer is a social networking Web site that functions much like facebook and twitter, providing feeds for updates, but for companies.

Yammer's office is located in my sales territory, so I dropped by. Maybe it's the fact that they hooked me up with a free t-shirt (see adjacent photo) or that they fed me lunch, or that it was my first time inside a budding start-up encroaching world domination (exploding in Australia and the Netherlands)... but I walked out the door bursting with yammer-citement. The first thing I did when I got home: logged in and subscribed to my CEO's Yammer feed.

E-Mail reduced paper clutter allowing companies to pass along memos, internal communication electronically. Now Yammer reduces e-mail clutter.

While it's no FACEBOOK or TWITTER (I'm blocked from those sites while logged in at work), I do marvel at the evolution of social networking- from a college phenomenon to a new form of professional, effective communication.

I give YAMMER a
thumbs up for taking
social networking to
the next level. when does Yammer Farmville 1.0 arrive?

Vote Yes or No: Are you bored?

If you're like a certain co-worker of mine (I won't name any names here...), focusing for 8-9 hours straight is a quite arduous task often requiring a comedic or entertaining break from the litany.

Voila! A new Web site is the answer (and question- ok, cheesy pun) to boredom:

My favorite from my quick peruse this morning: Do you purposely step on the cracks of the floor tiles to brake your mothers back?

I like that the site allows users to anonymously poll and answer with freedom to comment if desired. The quick and ever changing feeds track answers and I'm told that eventually the site will allow demographic information to be recorded, a way to extend the use of the site beyond just lighthearted relief from the daily grind. BUT- there is a catch: to see the poll results you have to answer the question! Brilliant, I say!

I actually learned about the site while sitting in the Starbucks on the corner of Third and Market in FiDi about two months ago. The creators of the site were sitting next to me discussing the site, and I'm a habitual eavesdropper, so I weighed in on their conversation. (It may be rude to listen to other people's conversations, but it's also a great way to meet new people or learn new things!)

And to my coworker that may very well be an example of undiagnosed ADHD, there is a question JUST for you:

Do you think that ADHD is just a diagnosis made up by doctors?

(Don't worry, I answered "No")

Thursday, March 25, 2010

NPR Report: More media or natural disasters?

The other day while driving around between customer visits, I tuned in to the local NPR syndicate and happened upon a piece that really caught my attention. I had all the intentions of including a link to the article here in my blog, but alas, my research efforts failed to locate the article and the name of the featured broadcaster escapes me.

The broadcast discussed the number of natural disasters recorded in history in relation to the increased proliferation of media and dispersion of humans throughout all parts of the world. Basically his argument was that the number of natural disasters of high magnitude, such as those that rattled Chile and ravaged Haiti, aren't arriving in increasing number, just the devastation has been better reported and occurred in more densely-populated areas.

The entire discussion returns to a classic, philosophical riddle:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
As humans continue to increase in numbers, build more buildings susceptible to damage (save for seismic-proofing in more affluent nations) and spread out into regions once uninhabited, of course the potential for damage and death increases. In addition, we also have faster and more globalized media that can disseminate news of such events.

Last year, in my crisis communications class, my professor was lecturing about the importance of implementing crisis communication plans in schools because of the "increased number of school shootings and youth violence". In turn, I should also include crime rates or murder rates. There are a few ways to read the data, but I wonder what goes into these numbers? Rates may increase, but how about the ease in reporting crimes/murders/etc? Number of people? Media attention?

I think this relays back to the "nature vs nurture" argument: have people gotten worse? If so, why??

I wonder how many people were burned by hot coffee at McDonald's before that infamous case? Before McDonald's lost and paid over half a million dollars to the plaintiff, how many reports of burns or injuries due to hot coffee were reported? And after? Was it that no one had ever been burned or that suddenly there was attention and an ease of reporting that allowed for more complaints to arise? Hmm... ;)

...I digress and circle back to the original report mentioned:

I felt assured to hear that the rate of natural disasters has not increased and the recent influx of volcanoes and earthquakes in the media isn't a sign of Armageddon- just an influx in people and of the media.

Switching Gears: Spoiled to Deprived

In all things, it's always important to reevaluate. If things appear to not be working out, sometimes its best to leave the project and return later or to create a new approach. I began this blog with the intentions of feeding the homeless and blogging about my efforts. To be honest, I was searching for feeling of purpose.

I've picked up and put down How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie a few times (the archaic diction tends to deter me...), and though I find myself fighting to commit to the book, one specific argument still resonates with me: all people want to feel important. A large part of keeping a positive moral within an office is to ensure that employees feel they are needed, their input, talents and efforts are recognized and of value. I must say, though the book was written in the earlier half of the 20th century and some of the supporting evidence is outdated and causes me to laugh, the arguments still hold true.

Even though I feel valued at my job, what I was doing wasn't important to me. Not to say that I'm not dedicated in my business endeavors or that I don't care about my performance, but I felt a feeling of emptiness- a gaping hole at the end of the day that what I was doing wasn't going to change the world. I realize that most careers don't allow us to put on a cape and rescue kittens from trees, but I was searching for a way to feel important to myself, the most important, and most scrutinizing boss.

Though my intentions were good, the follow through and the passion just wasn't there. It's not that I don't care about the homeless, or that I don't try to toss spare change their way from time to time, but it proved not to be my calling. I was afraid of becoming the iconic and cliche blogger that just rambles about herself without any reason to really solicit readers. But, when it came down to it, I wanted to write about more than just the "turning right" project I'd initially proposed; I have much more I want to divulge expand on. And with that sentiment, my blog will veer away from the brain child from with it sprung.

The transition from college to the real world is a difficult change. All four years of college are focused on self-improvement: getting smarter, making friends, having fun, preparing for the next step. I spent all four years so full of dreams and ambitions that I was so sure would come true pending my receipt of diplomas. But almost one year after graduation (wow- really can't believe how fast that went by!), not one thing I dreamed of or aspired to do has come into fruition. The main difference between college and real world: sometimes, hard work, talent, effort and dedication still doesn't make thing work out. Me explico: When I studied for a test, prepared, went to class, took good notes, asked insightful questions and attended discussion groups, I got a great grade. College was a simple formula: Effort + Time = GOOD GRADES. I had been spoiled in college: I had great professors that believed in me. They inspired hope; they made me believe in myself, and I felt entitled to the same simple equation translating directly from college achievements into my career.

I keep hearing over and over that "I'm young" and to "give my first job a whole year". I've never been a patient person, or someone content with anything less than complete satisfaction. (I'm a habitual perfectionist.) Not to say that I don't appreciate the reminders that being 22 and fresh out of college isn't necessarily an indication that all hope is lost, but why not now? I realize that I am fortunate to be employed full time in a recession, but, at the sake of sounding trite, no greatness was ever achieved through waiting. At the same time, packing up my things and following my heart might lead me to be begging for quarters on Market Street. (And this is not my intention.)

I think there are a two main schools of though in life: fatalism and free will. On that spectrum, my philosophy falls somewhere toward fatalism. I think everyone has a final destination that they will realize in their life. Sometimes we take paths or make decisions that can lead us away from this destination, but equally, I think we take action to expedite the journey. Occasionally great opportunities fall into our laps; however, many times, we have to make our own opportunities. I don't think that filling up my tank with gas and just gliding along to the instructions of my TOM TOM will always get me to where I need to be; sometimes you've got to just use intuition and your gut instinct to know what's best. Even though GPS may say "remain on route 101 S for next 20 miles", maybe it's the next exit where I should really be getting off.

Monday, March 1, 2010

creature comforts

It turns out, my original plan is a little more intimidating than I'd realized. Prior to actually inviting a homeless person to lunch of dinner, I'd just imagined it automatically comfortable- that the homeless person I'd invited would be bawled over from my generosity and immediately an outpouring of life experience, trauma and answers would emerge. But it turns out, even selecting someone to invite to share a meal is a scary thing. I realized that my "altruistic" intentions of learning how to turn around some poor soul's life wasn't alluding me from my habits of judgment and discernment. I set out multiple times hunting for the "right" person to invite. How, if I'm looking to do good, could I rule out anyone that was asking for help? And I realized that I was looking for someone who wasn't a lost cause- someone who would truly have a chance at changing and internalizing all that I was going to give. What I really was looking for was a way to make me feel good- and despite hiding it behind my facade of "doing good", there it was: I needed to feel like I really was making a difference more than ACTUALLY make a difference. Though terrible to admit that what I really wanted was just to feel like I was a good person, if in the long run I'd given a hungry person a few meals, did it matter if it was really driven by more selfish means?

Not to contradict myself, (though I believe Walt Whitman has forever enabled us to do so) but I could argue against that thought as well. In Acts (somewhere in the first 9 chapters)a couple dies because they covet a larger sum of their profit from a property they sell. When confronted, they deny it, and immediately drop dead. I'm not an evangelical looking to turn this blog into another attempt to convert non-believes, but I believe this Bible story has some interesting moral to it: this couple had donated fairly generously to the church, but could have given more. My interpretation of this is that the couple perished because they LIED about how much of their money they had actually given rather than the fact that they hadn't given all they could spare. A more real-life analogy to this is the fact that my roommate allowed someone to sleep in my bed while I was away one weekend. It wasn't that someone had done so, but it was done behind my back and I only found out because of my meticulous way of making my bed: when I returned at the end of the weekend I could see that my bed wasn't made the same way I'd left it (a bit of a "Goldie Locks and the Three Bears" moment). I'd asked her if someone slept in my bed. Despite initial denial, she did reluctantly concede that yes, someone had slept in my bed. HOWEVER, I will once again contradict myself: both the aforementioned two examples are driven by deception with ends that do not result in any positive outcome. So therefore, I'll continue with my selfish drive to feed the homeless. I digress...

Homeless in San Francisco are ubiquitous. (San Francisco city spends over $200 thousand each year trying to "clean up" the streets- Yet there were times where I'd felt equipped and confident enough to go through with it, and had to give up my search because of time deadlines. Then there were many times where my discerning eye withheld me from attempting any offer. (I do attribute part of this to the fact that a young girl on her own inviting a random stranger- a stranger of any sort, homeless or not- is a risk. The other part I attribute to being judgmental and scared...)

I first came upon Sam in December after leaving my Monday night Bible study. I had taken some left-over cookies from a holiday party to the group session and was looking to ditch the last bunch before getting back to my apartment. I found Sam parked outside of a small corner shop, flanked by some haggard bags and a half-empty bottle of coca cola. I approached him and sweetly asked if he'd like some cookies. Sam happily accepted and said "God bless you!" as I handed over the plate. "God bless you"- that's what everyone wants to hear when we do something good. We want that affirmation that "Yes, I am a really good person. I did something completely out of the goodness of my heart." So, when I finally was ready to begin my "project", I thought of Sam and set out to get him some food.

I found him once again alongside the same corner shop, hidden beneath the same weathered coat. I came armed only with my credit card and so I asked him what he'd like to drink. He requested just a coke and some Ritz crackers. I quickly delivered to him the items and continued on my way. The following night I returned to Sam again, this time with a plate of leftover steak, potatoes and salad. I found his usual spot empty, and learned from the clerks inside the store that immediately after I disappeared around the corner the previous night, Sam had cashed in the coke and cracker I'd bought for a fifth of cheap vodka. I was crushed. I'd been deceived. But wasn't that just the argument I'd assured myself above was ok? Sam had allowed me to believe I was giving a poor, homeless man a nice meal and waited until I'd gone to make sure that I didn't see him ditch the crackers for some booze. Sam was playing the same game I was, just another version. Neither one of us were being completely honest. Sam didn't want some crackers that would only stave off hunger a couple of hours. Sam wanted something that was going to really make the pain go away- something that would stave off whatever he was feeling. But he let me think that he was going to crack open that box of Ritz crackers with a smile and go to sleep feeling better. He was helping me.

So tonight, as I passed Sam outside the corner shop, I asked him which brand of vodka he'd like and if I could at least buy him a sandwich to accompany the liquor. Sam readily accepted, even pulling out an empty bottle to show me what size he wanted. Sam was very gracious of the favor, and he might just have waited until I'd gone once again to trade in the sandwich for another bottle of vodka, but at least tonight we were both half honest.